WHO switches to Greek alphabet for virus variant names

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The World Health Organisation has assigned new "labels" to key coronavirus variants so the public can refer to them by letters of the Greek alphabet instead of where the variant was first detected.

The objective of naming the coronavirus variants as Greek letters is to prevent association of these variants as the names of countries.

The single day rise in coronavirus cases was recorded at 1,73,790, the lowest in last 45 days, taking India's total tally of COVID-19 cases to 2,77,29,247, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Saturday.

The "Indian" variant of COVID-19 will now be known as "Delta" under a new system adopted by the WHO.

Under the new system, the variants of concern take on the following names: the hitherto so-called British variant B.1.1.7 becomes Alpha; the B.1.351 first discovered in South Africa becomes Beta, while the Brazilian P.1 becomes Gamma.

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"This expert group convened by World Health Organization has recommended using labeled letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha, Beta, Gamma, which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences", the statement noted.

The B.1.617 variant, first reported in India, contains two key mutations to the outer "spike" portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, according to Reuters. "No country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting Covid variants", said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical lead COVID-19 at WHO.

The announcement comes amid growing concerns about a variant being attributed to a specific country.

"They will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion of variant of concern and variant of interest VOI/VOC", she further stated. "As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory".

"There's definitely issues with stigmatization where the variants are being described and then labeling them based on that country". However, only 20 crore doses have been administered so far and just above 3% of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated.

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