B.1.617, B.1.1.7, B.1.351… Retaining the scientific names of the Covid-19 variants is a real headache. But the World Health Organization (WHO) will simplify things by also giving them names of Greek letters.
The idea is to have names “Easy to pronounce and remember”, but also to prevent the general public and the media from using names “Stigmatizing and discriminatory” referring to the place where the first cases of the variant were detected, explained the WHO in a statement released Monday, May 31.
In the United States, for example, attacks against people of Asian origin have increased, Donald Trump, president during the first year of the pandemic, having done everything to blame China, where the new coronavirus has been detected for the first time. He often spoke of the Chinese virus or “Kung Flu” (a pun on “flu”, which means flu).
The American Congress has even adopted a law to better combat the phenomenon, the “Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act”.
« Alpha », « Beta », « Gamma »…
Scientific names will continue to exist – because they provide useful data to experts – but the WHO will no longer use them in its daily communication. And the organization strongly encourages national authorities, the media and others to adopt the new names.
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Thus, the variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom, was named “Alpha”; B.1.351, first identified in South Africa, becomes “Beta”; and the P.1 variant, detected in Brazil, “Gamma”.
WHO gave two different names to the distinct sub-lines of variant B.1.617, which ravaged India and spread to dozens of countries: B.1.617.2 thus became “Delta”, and B. 1,617.1 becomes “Kappa”.
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While the pandemic, which has killed more than 3.5 million people worldwide since the end of December 2019, is raging, the highest contagiousness observed for new variants of the virus is worrying.