B.1.617, B.1.1.7, B.1.351 … Retaining the scientific names of the variants of the coronavirus can turn into a puzzle. But the World Health Organization wants to simplify things by also giving them new names using Greek letters. The idea is to have names “easy to pronounce and remember”, but also to avoid “stigmatize” the countries where the variants could be identified, explains the WHO in a press release (in English) published Monday May 31.
Thus, the variant B.1.1.7, identified in the United Kingdom, is also called Alpha. B.1.351, first discovered in South Africa, becomes Beta, the P.1 variant, detected in Brazil, Gamma. The WHO has given two different names to the distinct sublines of the B.1.617 variant, which ravaged India and spread to dozens of countries: B.1.617.2 thus becomes Delta, and B.1.617. 1 becomes Kappa.
Scientific names will continue to exist because they provide useful data to experts, but WHO will no longer use them in its daily communication. In particular, the organization is encouraging national authorities and the media to adopt the new names.