South Africa’s COVID-19 Variant Renamed to Avoid Discrimination


The several mutated variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, otherwise known as COVID-19, will now be known according to letters of the Greek alphabet in order to avoid “stigmatization and discrimination”, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This new system will apply to the variants seen to be of most concern – the most severe of the four currently in circulation on Earth – and the second-level mutates of interest being tracked.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, suggests that the new names will not replace the scientific names of the variants, but instead will be “aimed to help in public discussion.”

New Variant Names

Under the new system, the variants of concern renamed are the so-called “British variant”, “South African variant”, and “Brazilian variant”.

The British variant, B.1.1.7, will be renamed Alpha, the variant B.1.351 first encountered in South Africa will be renamed Beta, while the Brazilian variant, P.1, will be renamed Gamma.

In India, the COVID-19 variant B.1.617 is split into two sub-lineages. The lineage of concern will be renamed Delta, while the lineage of interest will be renamed Kappa.

The names of the lineages will remain the same in scientific circles, for the mutation information that are included in the naming convention. For example, South Africa’s variant will still be known as B.1.351 in a scientific context, and will otherwise be referred to as COVID-19 Beta in other contexts.

“Stigmatising and Discriminatory”

The WHO reiterates that the renaming is due to many reasons.

“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said in a statement.

“As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.”

“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”

The WHO has been trying to come up with simplified new nomenclature for the variants for several months reports EWN. Greek letters Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta and Iota have already been given to variants of interest.

By Luis Monzon
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