WHO Gives Virus Variants New Names, Drawing From Greek Alphabet

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With coronavirus variants sweeping the globe, the World Health Organization has devised a less technical way of describing them than their scientific, number-heavy names -- using the Greek alphabet.

Deploying letters like Alpha, Beta and Gamma -- instead of B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 -- to refer to the variants will make it “easier and more practical” to discuss them with non-scientific audiences, the WHO said in a statement. The organization convened a group of scientists to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatizing labels for the virus strains, which it divides into categories as “of interest” and “of concern.”

Established nomenclature systems for naming and tracking genetic lineages of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will still be used by scientists and in research, the WHO said.

Variants of Concern

New WHO LabelPango LineageEarliest Sample
AlphaB.1.1.7U.K. (September 2020)
BetaB.1.351South Africa (May 2020)
GammaP.1Brazil (November 2020)
DeltaB.1.617.2India (October 2020)

Variants of Interest

New WHO LabelPango LineageEarliest Sample
EpsilonB.1.427/B.1.429U.S. (March 2020)
ZetaP.2Brazil (April 2020)
EtaB.1.525Many Countries (December 2020)
ThetaP.3Philippines (January 2021)
IotaB.1.526U.S. (November 2020)
KappaB.1.617.1India (October 2020)

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