SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has introduced a new system based on the letters of the Greek alphabet to name coronavirus variants in a bid to do away with labels associated with countries, places or people.
The United Kingdom variant, called by scientists B.1.1.7, will now be Alpha. B.1.351, the South Africa variant, will now be Beta and the B.1.617.2 variant discovered in India will now be known as Delta.
The variant first discovered in India has caused alarm around the world after being blamed for an unrelenting wave that has resulted in millions of infections and casualties in the Asian country. Recently, WHO classified this variant as a variant of global concern.
When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up, WHO will announce another series.
This move will help alleviate stigma associated with naming variants after places or countries where they first originated, a key factor in countries holding back information about new strains out of fear of international isolation and negative sentiments.
In a statement, the WHO said that the established scientific nomenclature systems for tracking SARS-CoV-2 mutation would remain in use in the scientific community.
Coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese megacity of Wuhan in December 2019. While the media initially called it the Wuhan virus and Wuhan pneumonia, the WHO officially named it Covid-19 in February 2020.
However, US politicians including former President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among many others, continued to use the ‘China virus’ tag, prompting outrage from Beijing.
The increased vilification of China in US media since the outbreak of the pandemic has also been blamed for fueling a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
This announcement comes at a time when the world is in a race to develop and administer vaccines to mitigate and eventually arrest the spread of covid-19.
Sinovac vaccine, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, is the most recent covid vaccine to be validated by WHO for emergency use.
It becomes the second vaccine made by China to get international approval after Sinopharm, made by China National Biotech Group (CNBG), was validated two weeks ago.
According to WHO, 1.94 billion doses of vaccines have been administered globally, with 430 million people fully vaccinated. This represents 5.5% of population fully immunized, a clear indicator that a lot still needs to be done.