New names for COVID-19 variants to avoid 'stigmatising' countries

Ross Houston
June 1, 2021

The WHO earlier this month informed that the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19, first found in India in October previous year, had been detected in sequences uploaded "from more than 40 countries in all six WHO regions".

The variant first found in Brazil in the November of 2020 (P.1) will now be known as "Gamma".

The WHO said this was to simplify discussions but also to help remove some stigma from the names.

The world health body said it will use Greek letters to refer to variants first found in countries like the United Kingdom, South Africa and India.


The first-ever case of the highly infectious B.1.617 variant of coronavirus, first identified in India, has been detected in Pakistan despite a ban on travellers from the neighbouring country since April, the country's top health institute here has said.

The health ministry on Friday reported the detection of the first case of an Indian variant of coronavirus. The WHO has given similar names to other "variants of interest" which have been detected in other parts of the world.

The lineage names such as B.1.1.7.2 will still continue to be used in scientific circles, for the mutation information that their name conveys.

On May 15, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that the B.1.617.2 variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, is likely to take over and dominate in the UK.


The WHO admitted the scientific names can be "difficult to say and recall" and so have given rise "to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory".

"To avoid this and to simplify public communications, World Health Organization encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels", World Health Organization said.

When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted, another series like it will be announced, Van Kerkhove said. He added that he thinks it will be hard to now persuade people to start using the Greek alphabet labels.

"So, I understand why it's happening".


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