WHO announces labels for SARS-CoV-2 variants

June 1, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has assigned simple, easy to say and remember labels for key variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using letters of the Greek alphabet, the organization announced a news release.

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

The WHO said it will assign labels for those variants that are designated as variants of interest or variants of concern by WHO.

The WHO noted that the new labels do not replace existing scientific names (e.g., those assigned by GISAID, Nextstrain, and Pango), which convey scientific information and are 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,” the WHO said.

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