WHO revising COVID-19 variant naming to avoid stigmatizing countries

WHO revising COVID-19 variant naming to avoid stigmatizing countries
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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced changes to how it will label COVID-19 variants on Monday, saying the variants will be named using letters of the Greek alphabet instead of the place where they were first discovered.

The WHO declared that variants of interest and variants of concern will receive a designated Greek letter listed on its website.  

The naming system was developed after the WHO consulted experts from around the world following concerns that labeling the variants by their location of discovery is “stigmatizing” and “discriminatory.” 


Researchers will continue to use the scientific names for each variant, created by Pango and GISAID, because the names include helpful information on the strains. 

But the international health organization predicts the new system “will be easier and more practical” for nonscientists to use. B.1.1.7, for instance, will remain a label for the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom and will also be known as Alpha.

“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said in a statement. “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,” the statement continued. 

The WHO identifies four “variants of concern,” considered more serious than “variants of interest,” including Alpha. The B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa was labeled as Beta, the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil became Gamma and the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India is now Delta.


The organization has also categorized six strains as variants of interest. Epsilon refers to the B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants first found in the U.S., Zeta refers to the P.2 variant first discovered in Brazil and Eta refers to the B.1.525 variant initially detected in multiple countries.

P.3 first documented in the Philippines is called Theta, B.1.526 first found in the U.S. becomes Iota and B.1.617.1 first discovered in India is labeled as Kappa.

The adjustment in nomenclature comes after activists say violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans has increased throughout the pandemic after the first strain of COVID-19 was traced back to Wuhan, China. 

Several, including former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE, referred to the original virus as the “China virus,” which some alleged contributed to the rise in hate and violence against Asian Americans. President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE signed a hate crimes law designed to protect Asian Americans last month after the increase in incidents.  

Currently, there are no plans on how to label the variants after the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up.

The Greek alphabet was also used to label hurricanes last year after the traditional 21-name rotating list did not cover the amount of storms. The World Meteorological Organization Hurricane Committee said it would discontinue the use of the Greek alphabet to name hurricanes.