New Naming System for Virus Variants



  • The World Health Organization (WHO) would unveil a system of naming of coronavirus variants drawn from the way tropical storms are named.


  • The initiative, like how hurricanes are labelled, seeks to remove stigma. It will also be easier for the lay public to remember rather than these complicated lineage numbers.
  • This has been done to destigmatize and deincentivise countries from making their sequencing results public.
  • The WHO and health and science agencies across the world refer to viruses and their variants by formal lineage names, which are a combination of letters and names that point to the relationships between different variants.
  • Variants such as B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 suggest that they have certain mutations in common and as well clues to their evolutionary history.
  • However, because virus names and their associated diseases have frequently been named after geographical places where outbreaks were first reported or samples first isolated — such as the West Nile virus or Ebola.
  • 1.1.7 started to be known as the ‘U.K. variant’ and B.1.351 as the ‘South African’ variant.
  • The dilemma of having names that do notstigmatise places but also are amenable to popular use has to an extent been solved by the system of naming hurricanes, or tropical cyclones.
  • The World Meteorological Organisation leaves it to countries that surround a particular ocean basin to come up with names.

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