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In an attempt to avoid further stigmatisation of countries and communities due to COVID-19 variant names, a new naming convention was announced by Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emerging diseases unit, yesterday on Twitter.
They will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion of VOI/VOC
— Maria Van Kerkhove (@mvankerkhove) May 31, 2021
“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” she said.
Henceforth, COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) and variants of interest (VOI) will be labelled as Greek alphabets i.e. alpha, beta, gamma, and so on.
While scientific names will still be retained, the Greek names are meant to be used in public discussions by non-scientific audiences, as “the numbering system can be difficult to follow”.
The WHO already established guidelines for naming infectious diseases in 2015.
Yet, public figures like Donald Trump used inappropriate terms like “Chinese virus” multiple times in press conferences and on social media.
The rise in racially motivated attacks on people with Asian backgrounds around the world has already proved the dangers of using location-based names for viruses.
In Australia, the relatively more infectious Kappa variant (whose earliest documented samples originated from India) has been making rounds in Victoria.
Some are still concerned that mislabelling the Kappa (VOI) and Delta (VOC) variants as ‘Indian variant’ would give people a reason to target South Asian communities.
No, that does not give you a reason to be racist towards South Asian Australians.
— Tarang / तरंग (@tarang_chawla) May 28, 2021
Please don’t call it “Indian” variant. It is B.1.617. Naming variants after countries is dangerous and leads to hate crimes.
— K.M. Venkat Narayan (@kmvnarayan14) May 11, 2021
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