The move comes after authorities in New Delhi objected to the Covid strain B.1.617.2 being dubbed the “Indian variant”. From now on the Indian variant will be known as “Delta”, the UK one as “Alpha” and the South African strain as “Beta”. WHO officials say that this will simplify discussions about the variants but also help remove some of the stigma from the names.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, tweeted: “No country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants.”
A potential problem could occur if more than 24 variants are identified, as the Greek alphabet does not have more than 24 letters.
Should this happen, then WHO will have to think up a new naming system, Ms Van Kerkhove told STAT News in an interview.
She insisted that the scientific names would still be used by Covid experts.
“We’re not saying replace B.1.1.7, but really just to try to help some of the dialogue with the average person,” she explained to the US news site.
“So that in public discourse, we could discuss some of these variants in more easy-to-use language.”
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Infection rates remain relatively low at the moment and are not on a par with those in epicentres such as Bolton and Blackburn.
Dr Deepti Gurdasani told The Guardian that the situation was “entirely predictable”.
The clinical epidemiologist from Queen Mary University in London said: “When government was claiming that these outbreaks were localised, it was very clear that B.1.617.2, while at different frequencies in different regions, was rapidly increasing across all of England, which meant that the variant would become dominant even where it wasn’t frequent in a matter of weeks – and this is exactly what happened.”