On Monday, the World Health Organization
changed the way it will name current and future COVID-19
variants, deciding to identify them using Greek alphabet letters rather than the countries where they were discovered.
WHO said it hoped the change would help reduce stigma and discrimination after variants that first emerged in countries such as the United Kingdom
, South Africa
, and India
were commonly known as strains linked to a specific region; those variants will now be known as the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants, with new strains being given letters down the Greek alphabet.
These strains have become the dominant COVID-19 variants in many regions, and others are currently listed as variants of interest if they become more dangerous.
“All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time,” WHO wrote Monday. “Most changes have little to no impact on the virus’s properties, but some changes may affect the virus’s properties, such as how easily it spreads, the severity of the associated disease, or the performance of vaccines
, therapeutic medicines, diagnostic tools, or other public health
and social measures.”
The variants will continue to be referred to by their existing scientific names, which, according to WHO, convey "important scientific information." The naming system was developed in collaboration with nomenclature and virus taxonomy experts, as well as national health authorities.
The labels do not replace existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research
. The naming system aims to avoid calling #COVID19 variants by the locations where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory. pic.twitter.com/MwWGGMXPjn — World Health Organization (@WHO) May 31, 2021
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall
, and are prone to misreporting,” WHO added, adding that “as a result, people
frequently resort to calling variants by the locations where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory.”
The organization urged countries and media
outlets to continue using the new labels.
Since the coronavirus
first appeared in China
last year, there has been a catastrophic increase in racist
violence against Asian Americans
. According to one study, hate crimes
targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders increased by 150% in some major cities, and another group recorded over 6,600 reports of racist violence across the country between March 2020 and March 2021.
The vast majority of these assaults were directed at Asian American women
In May, President Joe Biden
signed an anti-Asian
hate crime bill into law, referring to racism
as an "ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation."