• Monday, September 26, 2022

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No more Indian variant: Covid-19 variants get new Greek names

(Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Pooja Shrivastava

THE COVID-19 variant first detected in India will now henceforth be known as Delta variant, as per new guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO), which said letters of the Greek alphabet will be used for coronavirus variants.

Revealing the names on Monday (31), amid criticism that those given by scientists were too complicated and assigning geographic locations attract stigma, the four coronavirus variants widely identified so far have now been given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta according to the order of their detection.

Therefore, the UK/Kent (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1) and India (B.1.617.2) variants will now be known as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta respectively. Other variants of interest continue down the alphabet, as per the WHO guidelines.

“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” said the WHO, explaining the decision and adding that people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are first detected, which is “stigmatising and discriminatory.”

“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove.

The move of assigning the Greek alphabet came after months of deliberations with experts considering a range of other possibilities including Greek gods, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen, who was involved in the talks.

These new labels do not completely replace existing scientific names, the ones with Roman alphabets, numbers and full stops, as they convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research, the WHO added.

Historically, the diseases have frequently been named after the locations they were thought to have developed, such as the Ebola virus and Spanish flu. However, the habit of attaching a particular geographic location with a variant was drawing a lot of flak.

Earlier this month, the Indian government ordered social media platforms to take down content that referred to the “Indian variant” citing that such mentions “spread miscommunication and hurt the country’s image.”

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