If you haven’t mastered the name yet Latest coronavirus version to set nations on edge — b.1.617.2, as evolutionary biologists say — so fear not: the World Health Organization has proposed a solution.
The group said on Monday that it has devised a system for less technical, and more easily pronounceable, naming variants – mutated versions of the virus that have prompted a new surge of infections around the world.
The variants will be assigned the letters of the Greek alphabet The order in which they are designated as Potential Threats by WHO
B.1.617.2, for example, which has contributed to a fatal boom in India, is named delta under the new system. This variant can spread even faster than B.1.1.7, the variant discovered in the UK that has contributed to the devastating wave of cases globally. (The new name for b.1.1.7 is Alpha.)
Scientists will continue to give new forms longer strings of letters and numbers for their purposes, but they hope that Greek letters will more easily pop off non-scientists’ tongues.
There is also a deep inspiration: The the letter and number system was so complicated that many people were referring to variations according to the places it was discovered (for example “Indian version” for B.1.617.2). Scientists worry that those unofficial surnames may be both inaccurate and stigmatizing, penalizing countries investing in the necessary genome sequencing to sound the alarm about new mutations that may have emerged elsewhere.
Whether the Greek letters will last or not is another matter. It has been months since experts convened by the WHO began discussing the issue, leading to the spread of labels such as the “British version” and the “South African version” in the news media.
Experts said they have considered several options, such as taking syllables from existing words to create new ones. But many of those syllabic combinations were already recognizable names of places or businesses, he said.
And as it happens, the Greek letters were freed from another task: the World Meteorological Organization said in March that it would no longer use them to name storms.