Story at a glance
- Coronavirus variants will no longer be classified by regional origin in a continued effort to avoid stigmas, the World Health Organization announced Monday.
- WHO will transition to categorizing variants using labels derived from letters of the Greek alphabet.
- The variant first detected in Brazil, for example, was named “Gamma.”
Coronavirus variants will no longer be classified by regional origin in a continued effort to avoid potentially harmful stigmas, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday.
WHO will transition to categorizing variants using labels derived from letters of the Greek alphabet. The variant first detected in Brazil, for example, was named Gamma, and the variant of concern discovered in India was labeled Delta.
“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19 response, tweeted Monday.
Greek letters will not replace existing scientific names given to variants of concern, but the new designations are meant to “help with public discussion about [variants of interest/variants of concern] as the numbering system can be difficult to follow,” Van Kerkhove said in the post.
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WHO explained that scientific names can “be difficult to say and recall” and could lead to the use of generic, regional names, which could be “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”
“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels,” WHO said, according to CNN.
But Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN Monday that the new classification could create issues, despite offering relief from harmful biases arising from regional identification. The new labels could also add to the confusion, according to Adalja.
“There’s definitely issues with stigmatization where the variants are being described and then labeling them based on that country. We know that there’s already backlash in India, regarding the Indian variant and people mentioning it that way,” Adalja told the outlet.
“So, I understand why it’s happening. I think it’s just a lot for people to think about this far down the line,” Adalja concluded.
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