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World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization announced Monday a new naming system for COVID-19 variants that uses letters from the Greek alphabet.

Why it matters: Health officials have been concerned that the strains' scientific names, comprising numbers and letters, are leading people to refer to them by the place they were detected, such as the "U.K. variant" for B.1.1.7, which the WHO notes in a Twitter post "is stigmatizing & discriminatory."

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • The WHO's COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said in a statement Monday, "No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants."
  • The WHO said that while the labels don't replace the scientific names, referring to them with letters of the Greek alphabet in public discussions makes it easier for people to say and remember.

How it works: Under the new system the WHO is encouraging countries to call variants of concern by the following names during public discussions:

  • B.1.1.7 becomes "Alpha;" B.1.351, first detected in South Africa, is now "Beta;" P.1, first found in Brazil, is "Gamma and; B.1.617.2, first detected in India, is called "Delta."

"Variants of interest" take the following new public names:

  • B.1.427/B.1.429, first detected in the U.S., takes the name "Epsilon;" P.2, first found in Brazil, becomes "Zeta;" B.1.525, detected in "multiple countries," is called "Eta;" P.3, which originated in the Philippines, is "Theta;" B.1.526, first identified in the U.S., is now "Iota" and; B.1.617.1, first detected in India, is referred to as "Kappa."

Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
Sep 8, 2021 - World

COVAX cuts 2021 forecast for available COVID doses by a quarter

Needles and vials of vaccine. Photo: Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

COVAX, the UN-backed program aimed at addressing COVID vaccine inequality, cut its forecast for doses available in 2021 by roughly a quarter.

Why it matters: The forecast led the World Health Organization (WHO) to double down on calls for wealthier nations to wait until at least the end of the year to administer booster shots so lower-income nations can vaccinate their populations.

Sep 8, 2021 - Health

Idaho begins rationing medical care amid COVID surge

Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Photo: Don and Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Idaho will begin rationing medical care in 10 of the state's overburdened hospitals in two districts, its Department of Health and Welfare announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The move comes as the state has seen a "massive increase in patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization" compounded by a shortage of beds and equipment, amid a surge driven by the Delta variant, per a news release.

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