WHO uses Greek alphabets to rename COVID variants, after India’s public request


The B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 COVID-19 variants that were first identified in India, have been named as ‘Kappa’ and ‘Delta’ respectively by the World Health Organization.

The global health agency has named various variants of COVID-19 using Greek alphabets to simplify the public discussion as well as to help in removing the stigma from the names.

The announcement by the WHO came on May 31, 2021, nearly three weeks after India objected to B.1.617 mutant of the Coronavirus being termed as an ‘Indian variant’ in media reports. The Union Health Ministry of India pointed that the UN’s top health body has not used the word ‘Indian’ for this strain in its document.

WHO’s technical COVID-19 lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove mentioned on Twitter that WHO announces new, easy to say labels for SARS-CoV2 Variants of Concern (VOCs) & Interest (VOIs). They will not replace the existing scientific names but aims to help in public discussions of VOI/VOC.

They renamed not only variants first found in India but also other variants – known as “variants of concern” – by letters in the Greek alphabet.

So the first such variant of concern, which first appeared in Britain and can be also known as B.1.1.7, will be known as the “alpha” variant. The second, which turned up in South Africa and has been referred to as B.1.351, will be known as the “beta” variant.

A third variant that first appeared in Brazil will be called the “gamma” variant.

The WHO’s decision to rename Covid variants came nearly three weeks after India objected to the B.1.617 variant being termed an “Indian variant” in media reports with the Union health ministry pointing out that the UN’s top health organ has not used the word “Indian” for this strain in its document.

On May 12, the ministry dismissed as “without any basis and unfounded” media reports that have used the term “Indian variant” for the B.1.617 mutant strain, which the WHO recently said was a “variant of global concern”.

“Several media reports have covered the news of the World Health Organization (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’,” the ministry said in a statement in New Delhi.

“These media reports are without any basis, and unfounded,” it said.

WHO pointed that no country must be stigmatized for detecting and reporting the COVID-19 variants. There is a need for robust surveillance for the variants, incl epi, molecular, and sequencing to be carried out and shared.

The global health agency also encouraged nations and others to adopt these names as they will ease the public discussion about the global COVID-19 Variants of Concern and Interest.