Greek alphabet names are to be given to Covid-19 variants of concern to replace those linked to the place of origin where the strain was first discovered.

The World Health Organisation unveiled the new names this week saying that the Covid-19 variants were to be given Greek alphabet names in order “to avoid stigma.”

Variants identified by the WHO as being ‘of concern’, that were previously known to as the UK/Kent, South Africa, Brazil and India variants, shall henceforth be known to the public as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Kappa respectively, following the letters of the Greek alphabet in order of detection.

WHO uses Greek alphabet to name COVID-19 variants

Diseases have historically been named after the locations that they were thought to have originated from, such as the Ebola virus, which takes its name from the Ebola River in Congolese.

However, it is claimed that such associations can be damaging for the place and often inaccurate as is the case with the ‘Spanish Flu.”

The announcement about the new labelling system comes after the Indian government ordered social media platforms to pull down content that referred to the “Indian variant” and follows a surge in Anti-Asian hate crime resulting from associations between the pandemic and the site of its first outbreak in Wuhan, China.

The rise in hate crimes has also been partly attributed to former US president Donald Trump referring to Covid-19 as the “China virus”.

The WHO said, “people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.”

Referring to the strain by the country in which it seemingly originated is “discriminatory”.  But using the Greek alphabet to name every single strain across the globe apparently is not.

There is one obvious problem that some may see associated with this ‘solution’ which calls for using the letters of the Greek alphabet to name all of the variants of the global pandemic.

The “China virus” as Trump so famously, and many say, so inappropriately named it, is not Greek either.

The announcement by the WHO comes despite the almost simultaneous decision made by Princeton University to remove the criteria for proficiency in the Greek (and Latin) language for classics majors to combat ‘systemic racism.’

The contrasting view points presented by these two scenarios lead many to be confused as to when use of the Greek language / alphabet is deemed to be racist or discriminatory, as opposed to when it is not.

Greek alphabet
The World Health Organisation is calling for national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt the new Greek labels in a bid to “to simplify public communications.”

Muddying matters even further, whilst the WHO is calling for national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt the new Greek labels “to simplify public communications,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced in March that it will cease from using names of Greek letters for hurricanes, saying that the strategy caused confusion and distraction in 2020, when there were a record 30 Atlantic storms. Instead, from now on, it will publish a supplemental list of appellations to draw on.

Interestingly, the decision to implement this Greek alphabet labelling system was made after months of deliberation by experts who were considering a range of ‘race neutral’ possibilities – amongst which one of the most noteworthy called for…wait for it….using the names of Greek Gods, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen who was involved in the talks.

Whilst it may be argued that Greece is the Cradle of Civilisation from which all of civilisation stemmed, it is known that the Covid-19 virus did not stem from Greece, leading to uncertainty as to why such apparent insistence on virus labels with a Greek-related inference is not deemed to hold the same stigma as the previous ‘assumed country of origin’ related names are.

Greek god
Another alternative toyed with in discussions by the WHO according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen was to name the Covid-19 variants after Greek gods.

One might be forgiven for begging the question as to why, in all of the talks and discussions, it did not occur to anybody to use a truly nation neutral system – such as using plain, simple, consecutive numbers.

When explaining why the Greek alphabet was chosen to name the variants of the virus at the centre of the global pandemic, WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said that “no country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants.”

And with this statement, we at Greek City Times, wholeheartedly agree.

Greek letters
Greek Letters.

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