The World Health Organization (WHO) rolled out a new naming system for tracking COVID-19 variants that the agency says creates “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatizing” labels for the new mutations. Going forward, the agency will use letters of the Greek alphabet when discussing the variants rather than pango lineage, scientific names or by referring to them by the country they were detected in, which the WHO says is “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” the agency stated. “As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory. To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”
As such, the B.1.1.7 variant, which was originally detected in the U.K., will now be referred to by WHO as Alpha. The B.1.351 variant, initially detected in South Africa, will now be referred to as Beta by the agency, and the P.1. variant, initially detected in Brazil, has been labeled Gamma. The B.1.617.2 variant, the newest addition to the list that was initially detected in India, has been labeled Delta.
“These labels do not replace existing scientific names (e.g. those assigned by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango), which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research,” WHO stated.