The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday (May 31) announced that it had created a new system to name COVID-19 variants utilizing letters of the Greek alphabet.
The new naming system is expected to be both practical and eliminate the stigma associated with names that utilize a geographic location.
Some critics have pointed out that colloquial names like ‘the United Kingdom variant’ can help to stigmatize people coming from the area, and could be misleading as it suggests that the variant actually emerged in the location, when this can not necessarily be proven.
WHO in a release explained that while scientific names have advantages, they can be difficult to say and are prone to misreporting.
Under the new naming system, the United Kingdom variant, called by scientists B.1.1.7, will be known as Alpha.
B.1.351, the South Africa variant, will be Beta and the B.1.617.2 variant discovered in India will now be known as Delta.
Earlier this month, the Indian government criticised the naming of variant B first detected in the country last October as the Indian variant, though the WHO had never officially labelled it as such.
The new WHO naming system was created in collaboration with experts and researchers who’ve been monitoring and assessing the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.