The World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new naming system for COVID variants. The new names of COVID variants were named after Greek letters, WHO said that this new nomenclature is to avoid stigma and confusion. 

Earlier this May, the Indian government objected to terming B.1.617.2 mutant of COVID-19 as “Indian Variant.” The Government of India raised a strong objection and issued an advisory to remove all content referring to the B.1.617.2 as Indian Variant. In the statement issued by the government, it is mentioned that the term “Indian Variant” is not associated with the B.1.617 variant. 

There are many COVID variants and it is difficult to recall all their scientific names. So people have been calling different names and geographical names for the COVID variants and some even find it difficult to pronounce bee-one-three-five-one and it’s also a bit confusing. 

Back in 2015, the WHO had issued a Best Practise for the Naming of the New Human Infectious Diseases, in the guidelines it mentioned that disease names should not comprise geographic locations such as cities, countries, regions, or continents. 

To put an end to this conflict and to reduce the geographical stigma WHO renamed COVID variants after the letters of Greek alphabets. The names were chosen by WHO following a wide set of rules and consultation. A group of experts around the world includes individuals specializing in existing naming systems, virus taxonomic experts, nomenclature, researchers, and national authorities were assigned to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatizing names for Variants of interest (VOI) and variants of concern (VOC). 

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, tweeted that “ No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants” and the new name list was published on the WHO official website. 

Greek Names for COVID Variants. 

WHO label Pango lineage Earliest documented samples Date of designation
Alpha B.1.17 United Kingdom,
Beta B.1.351 South Africa,
Gamma P.1 Brazil,
Delta B.1.617.2 India,
VOI: 4-Apr-2021
VOC: 11-May-2021
Epsilon B.1.427/B.1.429 United States of America,
Zeta P.2 Brazil,
Eta B.1.525 Multiple countries,
Theta P.3 Philippines,
Lota B.1.526 United States of America,
Kappa B.1.617.1 India,


These Greek letters will not replace the existing scientific names, these letters are just to simplify the public discussion and social stigma. If more than 24 COVID variants are officially identified, then the Greek letters system will be changed and a new program will be announced, says Ms. Van Kerkhove. The panalo lineage names will remain the same for scientists and scientific research purposes.