In case you haven’t but mastered the identify of the newest coronavirus variant to set nations on edge — B.1.617.2, as evolutionary biologists name it — then worry not: The World Well being Group 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 around the globe.
Variants will probably be assigned letters of the Greek alphabet within the order during 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 may be additionally a deeper motivation: The letters-and-numbers system was so difficult that many individuals had been referring to variants by the locations they had been found as an alternative (“the Indian variant” for B.1.617.2, for instance). Scientists fear that these casual nicknames may be each inaccurate and stigmatizing, punishing international locations for investing within the genome sequencing essential to sound an alarm about new mutations which will effectively have emerged someplace else.
Whether or not the Greek letters will stick is one other matter. It has been months since consultants convened by the W.H.O. started discussing the problem, permitting labels like “the British variant” and “the South African variant” to proliferate within the information media.
The consultants stated they’d thought-about quite a lot of options, like taking syllables from current phrases to make new phrases. However too lots of these syllable combos had 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 Group stated in March that it will now not use them to call hurricanes.