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WHO renames variants of COVID-19 using Greek letters

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WITH new COVID-19 variants emerging, the World Health Organisation has assigned the letters of the Greek alphabet to simplify discussion and pronunciation while avoiding stigma.

   The World Health Organisation revealed the new names on Monday, amid criticism that those given by scientists to strains such as the South African variant – which goes by multiple names including B.1.351, 501Y.V2 and 20H/501Y.V2 – were too complicated.

Since the pandemic began, the names people have used to describe the virus have provoked controversy. Former U.S. President Donald Trump called the new coronavirus “the China virus” and other monikers, raising concern he was using the names as a political weapon to shift blame to a rival nation.

The WHO, which has urged people not to use language to advance COVID-19 profiling of people or nationalities, has also said people should avoid using country names in association with emerging variants.

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

The four most prominent variants are those that were discovered, but not necessarily originated, in the U.K. (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1), and India (B.1.617.2). These variants will now be given the Greek letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta, respectively.  These four variants are, according to WHO, “variants of concern” (VOC) given the current state of each variant’s spread.

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

The choice of the Greek alphabet came after months of deliberations in which other possibilities such as Greek gods and invented, pseudo-classical names were considered, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen, who was involved in the talks.

Historically, viruses have often been associated with the locations from which they are thought to have emerged, such as the Ebola virus, which is named after a Congolese river.

But this can be damaging and inaccurate such as with the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918 whose origins are unknown, although the earliest cases are now believed to have emerged in the U.S. state of Kansas.

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

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