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DNA Explainer: Why India variant is named 'Delta', know the logic behind it

WHO feels that doing so may also make countries more open to reporting new variants if they're not afraid of being forever associated with them.

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DNA Explainer: Why India variant is named 'Delta', know the logic behind it
WHO new naming system for COVID-19 variants (Image Source: IANS)
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday announced that it will be using Greek letters as labels for key coronavirus variants instead of where the variant was first detected. The idea is to make communication simpler- 'easy to pronounce' and 'non-stigmatising' labels for the SARS-CoV-2 variant of interest (VOI) and a variant of concern (VOC).

WHO feels that doing so may also make countries more open to reporting new variants if they're not afraid of being forever associated with them in the mind of the public. 

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can mutate or change over time. This is what leads to different variants.

A WHO expert panel recommends using Greek alphabet letters to refer to these variants, "which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences," WHO says on its website.

When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up, World Health Organisation (WHO) will announce another series. 

Greek names

WHO calls the 'UK variant' (B.1.1.7) 'Alpha', and the 'South African variant' (B.1.351) is 'Beta'.

The P1 variant, first detected in Brazil and designated a variant of concern in January, has been labeled 'Gamma'.

The B.1.617.2 variant, first found in India and recently reclassified from a variant of interest to variant of concern, is 'Delta'.

Variants of interest have been given labels from 'Epsilon' to 'Kappa'.

Scientific names to remain

The WHO has made it clear 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.

"No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants," Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's the technical lead for COVID-19 response, wrote in a Twitter post on Monday.

However, WHO noted that the new labels do not replace existing scientific names for coronavirus variants. "Scientific names will continue to be used in research," Van Kerkhove tweeted.

Concern areas

In a release. WHO said that while scientific names have advantages, they can be difficult to say and are prone to misreporting.

There are some concerns that WHO's new Greek alphabet naming system has come a little too late and now the system might make describing the variants even more complicated.

Now there will be three potential names - their scientific name, references based on where a variant was first identified, and WHO's Greek alphabet labeling.

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