Nature editors support new naming system for coronavirus variants


The World Health Organization's new naming system for coronavirus variants should be widely adopted to reduce the stigma and discrimination that can occur from associating a virus with one place, Nature's editorial board wrote June 9. 

WHO unveiled the new naming system, based on the Greek alphabet, May 31. Nature argues the system should have come a lot sooner, because it's absence fueled the practice of naming variants after the country or city where they were discovered. For example, the B.1.1.7 variant has often been referred to as the "U.K. variant" or the "Kent variant." Under the WHO's system, it's known as the "alpha variant."

"The new system is both a more user-friendly alternative and designed to reduce the geographical stigma and discrimination that can come from associating a virus with a place," the editorial board wrote.

Singling out a specific country could also make governments hesitant to announce new strains or release data on variants "to avoid what they perceive as negative publicity or the risk of being blamed for creating a variant," the board argued. 

The WHO has already used 10 of the Greek alphabet's 24 letters to name all known variants of interest and concern. 

"The WHO’s advisers need to keep working on the next iteration so that it is ready to be deployed when required, and they should consider alphabets from other languages," the board said.

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