If you haven’t but mastered the identify of the most recent coronavirus variant to set nations on edge — B.1.617.2, as evolutionary biologists name it — then worry not: The World Health Organization has proposed an answer.
The group stated on Monday that it had devised a much less technical, and extra simply pronounceable, system for naming variants — the mutated variations of the virus which have pushed new surges of infections world wide.
Variants will likely be assigned letters of the Greek alphabet in the order in which they’re designated potential threats by the W.H.O.
B.1.617.2, for instance, which has contributed to a lethal surge in India, has been named Delta beneath the brand new system. That variant could unfold much more rapidly than B.1.1.7, the variant found in Britain that has contributed to devastating waves of circumstances globally. (B.1.1.7’s new identify is Alpha.)
Scientists will maintain assigning lengthy strings of letters and numbers to new variants for their very own functions, however they hope that Greek letters will roll off the tongues of nonscientists extra simply.
There is additionally a deeper motivation: The letters-and-numbers system was so difficult that many individuals have been referring to variants by the locations they have been found as a substitute (“the Indian variant” for B.1.617.2, for instance). Scientists fear that these casual nicknames will be each inaccurate and stigmatizing, punishing international locations for investing in the genome sequencing essential to sound an alarm about new mutations that will nicely have emerged some place else.
Whether the Greek letters will stick is one other matter. It has been months since specialists convened by the W.H.O. started discussing the problem, permitting labels like “the British variant” and “the South African variant” to proliferate in the information media.
The specialists stated that they had thought of various alternate options, like taking syllables from present phrases to make new phrases. But too a lot of these syllable combos have been already recognizable names of locations or companies, they stated.
And because it occurs, the Greek letters had simply been freed up from one other process: The World Meteorological Organization stated in March that it might not use them to call hurricanes.