WHO assigns Greek letters to SARS-CoV-2 variants

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags WHO SARS-COV-2

The World Health Organization (WHO) is assigning ‘simple, easy to say and remember’ labels to key variants of SARS-CoV-2, using letters of the Greek alphabet.

The labels will be used for Variants of Interest and Variants of Concern. They do not replace existing scientific names: but provide a simplified name without identifying a country.

Up to now, virus variants are often labelled by the place names where they are detected (such as the ‘UK variant’, ‘South Africa variant’ or ‘Brazil variant’): which the WHO notes is ‘stigmatizing and discriminatory’.

Now, the ‘UK variant’ B.1.1.7 becomes Alpha; while the ‘India’ B.1.617.2 variant becomes Delta.

variants of concern
Variants of concern: New labels and scientific names


These labels were chosen after wide consultation and a review of many potential naming systems,"​ says the WHO. 

"The WHO convened an expert group of partners from around the world to do so, including experts who are part of existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities.

“These labels do not replace existing scientific names (e.g. those assigned by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango), which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.

“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting. As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory. To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”

variants of interest
Variants of Interest: New labels and scientific names

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