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New naming convention for COVID variants

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced a new system for naming COVID-19. From now, Greek letters will be used to refer to variants first detected in countries like the UK, South Africa and India.

The UK (or Kent) variant for instance is labelled as Alpha, the South African is now Beta, and the dominant Indian variant is now referred to as Delta.

The WHO said this was to simplify discussions but also to help remove some stigma from the names.

The full list of WHO variant labels includes:

  • Alpha - B.1.1.7 - first detected in UK
  • Beta - B.1.351 - South Africa
  • Gamma - P.1 - Brazil
  • Delta - B.1.617.2 - India
  • Epsilon - B.1.427/B.1.429 - USA
  • Zeta - P.2 - Brazil
  • Eta - B.1.525 - multiple countries
  • Theta P.3 - Philippines
  • Iota - B.1.526 - USA
  • Kappa - B.1.617.1 – India.

The Delta variant is now the dominant COVID strain in England with 73% of cases being in people who are unvaccinated.