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WHO renames COVID variants to ‘non-stigmatising’ letters of Greek alphabet

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Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen in the US following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in China
Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen in the US following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in China   -   Copyright  AP
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Alpha, Beta, Delta - these could soon be the latest names associated with coronavirus entering the public consciousness.

The World Health Organization, in an attempt to simplify labels for COVID-19 variants - and to avoid stigmatizing certain countries - has renamed the various variants of the virus.

Instead of referring to them by the name of the country in which they were first discovered, such as the Indian, Brazilian or British variants, the WHO wants them to be known by letters of the Greek alphabet.

So the so-called Indian variant (B.1.617.2), the cause of much alarm around the world, is to be known as Delta, the Brazilian (P.1) variant as Gamma, and the British one (B.1.1.7) as Alpha.

These are “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels” according to the organisation, which will be “easier and more practical to be discussed by non-scientific audiences”.

The pandemic has led to some fears about stigmatisation, especially its association with China where it was first discovered.

Former US president Donald Trump, who was in power when the pandemic began, would often refer to coronavirus as the “China virus” and he even called in “kung flu”, a comment widely perceived as racist.

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation to curtail a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The FBI had warned at the start of the pandemic there could be a rise in hate crimes due to the virus’s association with China.