Covid-19 variants given Greek alphabet names to avoid stigma

Historically, diseases have frequently been named after the locations they were thought to have developed, such as the Ebola virus, which takes its name from the Congolese river. However, such associations can be damaging for those places and are often inaccurate, as is the case with the “Spanish flu” of 1918, whose origins are unknown. Last month, the Indian government ordered social media platforms to take down content that referred to the “Indian variant”. The government order was cited as an example of its sensitivity to accusations that it had mishandled the latest outbreak.

Coronavirus variants are to be named after letters of the Greek alphabet instead of their place of first discovery, the World Health Organization has announced, in a move to avoid stigma. The WHO has named four variants of concern, known to the public as the UK/Kent (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1) and India (B.1.617.2) variants. They will now be given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta respectively, to reflect their order of detection, with any new variants following the pattern down the Greek alphabet.

alpha and omega
The Greek alphabet naming system begins with Alpha for the Kent coronavirus variant, which was the first to be discovered. Photograph: Olivier Le Moal/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The decision to go for this naming system came after months of deliberations with experts considering a range of other possibilities such as Greek Gods. The organisation said the labels do not replace existing scientific names involving numbers, Roman letters and full stops, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research. click for full source.

The Delta variant is now the main type of coronavirus in the UK, and Scientists believe that it spreads faster than the Alpha variant that was most common earlier this year. New figures suggest that in just a week, the number of coronavirus infections in England has risen by 76%. Clearly, there is some confusion over this change, which is why commentators keep explaining which variant they are talking about e.g.”the Delta variant, also known as the so-called Indian variant” which is a bit long-winded.

Map showing concentration of Indian or Delta variant cases in hotspots. Updated 3 June
Distribution of Delta variant in England

Earlier this week, Portugal was removed from the green list and placed on the amber list from next Tuesday, the reason being given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was that there was a “Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant”. He said it wasn’t known whether it could be “vaccine defeating”. The WHO said it was “not aware of any new variant of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Nepal”, and the dominant variant there was the Delta or Indian variant. A small number of cases of the Delta variant have been identified as having an extra mutation – called K417N. Samples of the Delta variant with this extra change have been spotted about 90 times worldwide. Of these, 12 cases were spotted in Portugal, 36 in the UK, 12 in the US and four in India. click full source.

couple on beach
beach in Portugal

So there we have it. Coronavirus will continue to mutate, and this micro-managing of of variants to make major economic decisions, such as taking Portugal off the green list on the basis of 12 cases of a mutation that has not been recognised by the WHO as a “variant of concern” is ridiculous.

Portugal’s president of tourism has issued a strongly-worded statement following the UK’s decision to remove the country from its green list for travel from Tuesday. Luis Araújo said he was “extremely disappointed”, adding: “We fully maintain and stress unwavering confidence in the safety of the nation and thank the support of all our partners and friends in the UK, especially our trading partners that have been essential in quickly reinstating flight capacity into Portugal.

“Our country is open and prepared to welcome any tourist and we have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our visitors and residents. “Portugal has been controlling the evolution of the pandemic, has one of the lowest indicators of cases per population and a robust national health system.

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