The new names for coronavirus variants based on the letters of the Greek alphabet are likely to be adopted by the UK government, a minister has said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new naming system for the different strains of COVID-19 on Monday.
The WHO will now use Greek letters to refer to variants first detected in countries such as the UK, India and South Africa.
Many variants of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – have been identified around the world.
Up to now, the variants had been named after the areas where they were first identified.
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They include B.1.1.7, known in the UK as the Kent variant and around the world as the UK variant – but now labelled by the WHO as Alpha.
The B.1.617.2 variant, often known as the Indian variant, has been labelled Delta, while B.1.351, often referred to as the South African variant, has been named Beta.
The P.1 Brazilian variant has been labelled Gamma.
On Tuesday, junior business minister Paul Scully said the UK government is likely to follow the new naming system.
“I don’t think it matters either way, frankly, but I think we will be calling it Alpha, which is the Kent variant, and Delta which is the variation that started in India.”
“That’s not my decision but I suspect that will be the case.”
Why are the WHO doing this?
The WHO said variants of concern should be named after the Greek alphabet to avoid using terms which can lead to stigma.
The WHO said these labels were chosen after wide consultation and a review of many naming systems.
The organisation said the labels do not replace existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said.
“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.”
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