WHO renames COVID-19 variants with Greek letter names to avoid confusion, stigma

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The World Health Organization has created a new system to name COVID-19 variants, getting away from place-based names that can be hard to pronounce, difficult to remember and stigmatizing to a country.

The new system, which was announced Monday, is based on the letters of the Greek alphabet. The United Kingdom variant, called by scientists B.1.1.7, will now be Alpha. B.1.351, the South Africa variant will be Beta, and the B.1.617.2 variant discovered in India will now be known as Delta.

When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up, WHO will announce another series. 

"It's the right thing to do," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. 

It may also make countries more open to reporting new variants if they're not afraid of being forever associated with them in the mind of the public. 

In a release. WHO said that while scientific names have advantages, they can be difficult to say and are prone to misreporting.

"As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory," WHO said.

It's also often wrong. Where a disease or virus is first discovered isn't usually where it actually first emerged.

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John Spacey

John Spacey