The World Health Organisation 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.
These labels were chosen after wide consultation and a review of many potential naming systems, WHO said.
WHO convened an expert group of partners from around the world to undertake the renaming.
The experts include those that are part of existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities.
The UN agency assigned labels for those variants that are designated as Variants of Interest or Variants of Concern by WHO.
They include B.1.1.7, known in the UK as the Kent variant and around the world as the UK variant – but now labelled by the WHO as Alpha.
The B.1.617.2 variant, often known as the Indian variant, has been labelled Delta, while B.1.351, often referred to as the South African variant, has been named Beta.
The P.1 Brazilian variant has been labelled Gamma.
WHO said WHO labels do not replace existing scientific names (e.g. those assigned by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango), which convey important scientific information and will continue to be 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 stigmatising and discriminatory.
“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels,” it said.