The WHO said on Monday that it has developed a new designation system for SARS-CoV-2 “variations of concern” and “variants of interest,” which refer to viral variants with significant alterations that are being closely monitored by experts. Every viral variation will be given a name based on the Greek alphabet in the future, such as “Alpha,” “Beta,” or “Gamma,” to make it easier for the public to talk about the variations without having to refer to them by the nations where they were initially discovered.
The new labels will not replace current scientific number-and-letter combinations, which will continue to be utilized in research, but they should make it easier for non-scientists to communicate about variations precisely and sensitively.
“While these scientific names have their benefits, they can be difficult to speak and remember and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO stated in a statement released Monday. “As a result, individuals frequently refer to variations by their detection locations, which is both stigmatizing and discriminating. WHO recommends national authorities, media outlets, and others to adopt these new designations to avoid this and to simplify public communications.”
The B.1.1.7 variety, originally discovered in the United Kingdom, will be called “Alpha,” the B.1.351 variation, originally discovered in South Africa, “Beta,” the P.1 variation discovered in Brazil, “Gamma,” and the B.1.617.2 variation now connected with India, “Delta.”
Moving away from place-specific language avoids blaming a country for discovering a variant first, as well as stigmatizing a group of people by associating them with an infectious disease, an old practice used in naming diseases like the Spanish flu and the Middle East respiratory syndrome that public health experts now advise against.
It’s not just a question of rhetoric. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 1 in 5 tweets marked with #covid19 was anti-Asian, compared to half of the tweets marked with #chinesevirus, which studied 1.2 million hashtags on Twitter during the epidemic.
“To prevent stigmatizing populations and perpetuating prejudice, everyone, scientists, community members, and politicians, should adopt neutral, nonjudgmental language,” the authors concluded. “Our findings support the usage of neutral wording,” says the researcher.