New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday announced that the B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 variants of the Coronavirus – first identified in India – have been named as ‘Kappa’ and ‘Delta’, respectively.
The WHO renamed not only variants first found in India but also other variants – known as “variants of concern” – by letters in the Greek alphabet.
So the first such ‘variant of concern’, which first appeared in Britain and is also known as B.1.1.7, will be known as the “alpha” variant. The second, which showed up in South Africa and is referred to as B.1.351, will be known as the “beta” variant.While, the third variant that first appeared in Brazil will be called the “gamma” variant.
Meanwhile, the variant B.1.617, first found in India, is split into sub-lineages, of which the B.1.617.1 variant of concern becomes ‘Kappa’. The B.1.617.2 variant of interest has been named ‘Delta’.
This is why India objected earlier on renaming
The WHO’s decision to rename Covid variants came nearly three weeks after India objected to the B.1.617 variant being termed an “Indian variant” in media reports with the Union health ministry pointing out that the UN’s top health organ has not used the word “Indian” for this strain in its document.
On May 12, the ministry dismissed as “without any basis and unfounded” media reports that have used the term “Indian variant” for the B.1.617 mutant strain, which the WHO recently said was a “variant of global concern”.
“Several media reports have covered the news of the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying B.1.617 as a variant of global concern. Some of these reports have termed the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus as an ‘Indian Variant’,” the ministry said in a statement in New Delhi.
“These media reports are without any basis, and unfounded,” it said.
This is why WHO chose Greek alphabets
The choice of the Greek Alphabet came after months of deliberations in which other possibilities such as Greek Gods and pseudo-classical names were considered by experts, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen who was involved in the talks.
Another idea to refer to variants of concern as VOC1, VOC2 etc was scrapped after it was pointed out they resembled an English swear word.
Historically, viruses have often been associated with the locations from which they are thought to have emerged such as Ebola which is named after the eponymous Congolese river.
But this can be damaging for the places and often inaccurate such as with the so-called ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic of 1918 whose origins are unknown.
“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead
“They will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion,” said Maria Van Kerkhove.