(CNN) – The World Health Organization announced Monday that it has assigned new “labels” to key variants of the coronavirus so that the public can refer to them with letters of the Greek alphabet rather than where the variant was first detected, for example, the ‘UK variant’ (B.1.1.7) is now ‘Alpha’ and ‘South African variant’ (B.1.351) is now ‘Beta’.
“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for covid-19 response, wrote in a Twitter post on Monday.
A WHO expert panel recommends using letters from the Greek alphabet to refer to the variants, “which will be easier and more practical for non-scientific audiences to discuss,” according to a new web page on the WHO website.
Variant P.1, first detected in Brazil and designated as a variant of concern in January, has been labeled ‘Gamma’.
Variant B.1.617.2, which was first found in India and recently reclassified from a variant of interest to a variant of interest, is ‘Delta’.
Variants of interest have been labeled from “Epsilon” to “Kappa.”
The WHO noted in Monday’s announcement that the new labels do not replace the existing scientific names for the variants. Scientific names “will continue to be used in research,” Van Kerkhove tweeted.
‘While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to pronounce and remember, and are prone to misinformation. As a result, people often resort to call variants because of the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory, ”according to the WHO announcement. “To avoid this and simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, the media and others to adopt these new labels.”