The World Health Organisation on Monday, 31 May, announced new labels for COVID variants of concern and interest, using letters of the Greek alphabet.
Accordingly, the B.1.617.2 COVID variant first found in India will be referred to as 'Delta' while another variant found in the country (B.1.617.1) will be known as 'Kappa', the WHO declared.
“The labels don’t replace existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research,” Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical lead COVID-19 at WHO said on Monday, adding that no country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting COVID variants.
Under the new scheme, B.1.1.7, the variant first found in Britain, will be known as Alpha while B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa, will be Beta. Meanwhile, P.1, the variant first detected in Brazil, will be Gamma.
When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted, another series like it will be announced, Van Kerkhove told STAT.
A plan to simplify the nomenclature of the variants had been in progress for several months, led by the WHO’s Virus Evolution Working Group.
On 12 May, the WHO had said in a tweet that it "does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from”. "We refer to them by their scientific names and request all to do the same for consistency," it tweeted.
Following suit, in a statement, the Indian government said, "Several media reports have covered the news of WHO classifying B.1.617 as variant of global concern. Some of these reports have termed the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus as an 'Indian Variant'. These media reports are without any basis, and unfounded."