WHO renames COVID variants to end "stigmatisation" of countries

WHO renames COVID variants to end "stigmatisation" of countries

WHO renames COVID variants to end "stigmatisation" of countries

“Alpha” and “Beta” instead of “British” and “South African”: To avoid stigma, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has decided that new variants of COVID-19 will no longer be named according to where they were first detected, but using Greek letters. 

Coronavirus variants get new names

Coronavirus variants are getting new names. The WHO announced this week that it will in future start referring to the new mutations using Greek letters, in the order in which they were first discovered. 

The variant that first emerged in Great Britain will now be known as “Alpha”, while the variant from South Africa is “Beta”. “Gamma” was first discovered in Brazil and “Delta” is the variant first detected in India. Future variants will be named following the pattern down the Greek alphabet. 

The decision came after months of deliberations, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen, who was involved in the talks. Experts also considered a range of other possibilities, including Greek Gods or pseudo-classical word creations.  

Calling variants after countries is “stigmatising and discriminatory”

The WHO emphasised that the new labels will not replace the existing scientific names - made up of numbers, Roman letters and full stops - which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research. 

“These scientific names have their advantages, but they can be difficult to say and recall and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said. “As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory… To avoid this and to simplify public communications, [the] WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.” 

“No country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants,” added WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove. 

Diseases have historically often been named after the place where they are believed to have originated. The Ebola virus, for instance, takes its name from a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, such associations can be harmful to the places and moreover inaccurate and misleading - as was the case with the “Spanish flu” influenza pandemic of 1918, the origins of which are unknown. 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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