WHO shifts naming strategy for COVID-19 variants

COVID-19 variants will now be labeled using letters of the Greek alphabet, the World Health Organization announced May 31. 

In contrast to the series of letters and numbers that make up the scientific names, the new strategy aims to make variant labels easier to remember, the WHO said. 

"Scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting. As a result, people often resort to calling variants by their places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory," the WHO said. 

For example, under the new system, the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the U.K., will now be commonly referred to as Alpha, while B.1.351, first detected in South Africa, will be called Beta. 

The organization is using the strategy to assign labels for variants of interest and variants of concern. 

The labels will mainly be used for public communication, such as media reports, while existing scientific names will continue to be used in research.


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