The World Health Organization is rolling out a new naming system for coronavirus variants to simplify reporting and fight stigma, Reuters reports.
The WHO will use Greek letters to term new variants in lieu of terms like the “South African variant,” which have been criticized for stigmatizing certain countries, and B.1.351, which are too complicated to remember.
The WHO similarly pushed to avoid referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” as former President Donald Trump did, for similar reasons.
The four variants considered of particular concern have been renamed. The UK variant is now Alpha, the South African variant is Beta, the Brazilian variant is Gamma, and the Indian variant is Delta.
New variants will continue down the Greek alphabet.
"While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting," the WHO said.
WHO considered many names:
The WHO also considered terming variants after Greek gods or classical names but many were already used by brands.
The WHO also considered names of lost religions, names of plants, and fruits.
“No country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants,” said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove.
Break from history:
The push to end the stigma by tying the names of viruses to their origin location comes amid backlash to Trump and others but health officials have long used origin locations to term new viruses.
The Ebola virus is named after a Congolese river, for example.
But some historic terms have also been misleading. The 1918 Spanish flu, for example, is believed to have emerged in Kansas.