WHO to use Greek alphabets as labels for Covid strains

In the backdrop of communication from several countries and agencies to consider ‘easy to pronounce’ and ‘non-stigmatising’ labels for SARS-CoV-2 variant of interest (VOI) and variant of concern (VOC), the WHO Monday announced that it will be using greek alphabets as labels for the two categories of mutations.

The WHO has said the VOC B.1.1.7, samples earliest documented in United Kingdom (September 2020) will be called Alpha; VOC B.1.351, samples earliest documented in South Africa (May 2020) will be called Beta; VOC P.1, samples earliest documented in Brazil (November 2020) will be called Gamma; and B.1.617.2, samples earliest documented in India (October 2020) will be called Delta.

The WHO, however, said that the established nomenclature systems for naming and tracking SARS-CoV-2 genetic lineages by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango are “currently and will remain in use by scientists and in scientific research”.

“To assist with public discussions of variants, WHO convened a group of scientists from the WHO Virus Evolution Working Group, the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network, representatives from GISAID, Nextstrain, Pango and additional experts in virological, microbial nomenclature and communication from several countries and agencies to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels for VOI and VOC. At the present time, this expert group convened by WHO has recommended using labeled using letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha, Beta, Gamma, which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences,” the WHO said.

Significantly, on May 12, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued an official statement that WHO has not associated the term “Indian Variant” with B.1.617— a VOC.

“Several media reports have covered the news of World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying B.1.617 as a variant of global concern. Some of these reports have termed the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus as an ‘Indian Variant’. These media reports are without any basis, and unfounded. This is to clarify that WHO has not associated the term ‘Indian Variant’ with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in its 32 page document. In fact, the word “Indian” has not been used in its report on the matter.” MoHFW had earlier said.

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