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It's Greek to you now: York Region adapts WHO's new names for COVID-19 variants

Letters in the Greek alphabet replace the names previously used that reflect the country where they were first detected

York Region Public Health has adapted the new Greek alphabet names for the COVID-19 variants of concern released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"To date, (variants) have been known by multiple names and numbers. To assist the public, the WHO has recommended using labelled letters of the Greek alphabet which are easier to understand and more practical for non-scientific audiences," said York Region spokesperson Patrick Casey.

WHO released the new names May 31, and York Region's public dashboard reflects now reflects the Greek alphabet naming protocol as of yesterday, June 9, eliminating the previously used names that indicated countries where the variants were first detected — U.K., South Africa, Brazil and India.

The new labels do not replace existing scientific names, such as B.1.1.7 or B.1.351, which convey important scientific information for researchers, according to the WHO news release.

"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 stigmatizing and discriminatory. To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels."

Here are the new names: 

Original Variant Name

Greek Alphabet Name      

B.1.1.7 (variant from United Kingdom)

B.1.1.7 = Alpha 

B.1.351 (variant from South Africa)

B.1.351 = Beta 

B.1.617.1 (sub-lineage of the B.1.617 variant from India)         

B.1.617.1 = Kappa

B.1.617.2 (sub-lineage of the B.1.617 variant from India)

B.1.617.2 = Delta

P.1 (variant from Brazil)

P.1 = Gamma

NewmarketToday provides daily updates regarding the COVID-19 situation in Newmarket, York Region and Ontario with statistics reported by York Region Public Health and Public Health Ontario, including case tallies for variants.

More information on the naming of SARS-CoV-2 variants can be found on the WHO website.

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Debora Kelly

About the Author: Debora Kelly

Debora Kelly is NewmarketToday's editor. She is an award-winning journalist and communications professional who is passionate about building strong communities through engagement, advocacy and partnership.
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