The World Health Organization announced it has assigned new “labels” to key coronavirus variants so that the public can refer to them by letters of the Greek alphabet instead of where the variant was first detected – for instance, the “UK variant” (B.1.1.7) is now “Alpha,” and the “South African variant” (B.1.351) is now “Beta.”
“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19 response, tweeted Monday.
Rather, a WHO expert panel recommends using Greek alphabet letters to refer to variants, “which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences,” according to a new webpage on WHO’s website.
The P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil and designated a variant of concern in January, has been labeled “Gamma.” The B.1.617.2 variant, first found in India and recently reclassified from a variant of interest to variant of concern, is “Delta.” Variants of interest have been given labels from “Epsilon” to “Kappa.”
WHO noted in Monday’s announcement that the new labels do not replace existing scientific names for variants. Scientific names will “continue to be used in research,” Van Kerkhove tweeted.
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting. As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory,” according to WHO’s announcement. “To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”