Coronavirus variants will now be referred to by letters of the Greek alphabet instead of where they were first discovered, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday, in a bid to prevent the stigmatization of entire communities.
For example, instead of the “UK variant” (B.1.1.7), the WHO will now say “Alpha;” the “South African variant” (B.1.351) is now “Beta;” and the P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil, has been labeled “Gamma,” CNN’s Jacqueline Howard reports.
Throughout history, infectious diseases have been named after geographic locations where they were thought to have originated: West Nile virus, Zika and Ebola, to mention a few. But those associations can be damaging for those places, its people and, in some cases, be inaccurate. There is no universal consensus on where Spanish flu began, for example.
Last March, then-President Donald Trump referred to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus.” Many Asian Americans subsequently said they were blamed for bringing the coronavirus to the United States. In May, India’s government expressed displeasure with media outlets using the term “Indian variant,” for the B.1.617.2 Covid-19 strain first identified in the country (or “Delta,” as it will be called under the new system).
The WHO says the Greek alphabet letters “will be easier and more practical to [be] discussed by non-scientific audiences.” But there are some concerns that the system has arrived too late. The new names could make describing the variants even more complicated as there will now be three potential names: a scientific name, references based on where a strain was first identified and WHO’s Greek alphabet labeling.
“There’s definitely issues with stigmatization where the variants are being described and then labeling them based on that country. We know that there’s already backlash in India, regarding the Indian variant and people mentioning it that way,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN. “So, I understand why it’s happening. I think it’s just a lot for people to think about this far down the line.”
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: How can we prevent future outbreaks of other diseases?
A: One step would be an international treaty on pandemic preparedness, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the closing of the 74th World Health Assembly on Monday.
Tedros said the “defining characteristic of the pandemic is the lack of sharing: of data, information, pathogens, technologies and resources. These are the challenges … we’ve been facing since the pandemic started, and even before.”
A treaty would change that, “fostering improved sharing, trust and accountability, and provide the solid foundation on which to build other mechanisms for global health security,” Tedros said.
But it could take some time for such an agreement to be reached. The first international public health treaty negotiated by the WHO, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, was negotiated for four years before it came into force in 2005.
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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
Peru more than doubles its official Covid-19 death toll
Peru has more than doubled its official death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic following a government review of the figures, leaving the country with the highest coronavirus-related death rate per capita in the world.
Its Prime Minister Violeta Bermudez told a press conference that the figure was changed from 69,342 on Sunday to 180,764 on Monday following advice from a panel of Peruvian and international experts, and it covers coronavirus-related deaths between March 1, 2020 to May 21, 2021. “It [is] our duty to make the updated information public, not only as part of our commitment to transparency, but also to comply with our obligations as a state,” Bermudez added.
China partially seals off city after new Covid-19 cluster
Chinese authorities have locked down two areas in China’s Guangzhou city, northwest of Hong Kong, after 21 locally-transmitted Covid-19 cases and five asymptomatic infections were reported in the district since May 21.
All public venues within the two areas in Liwan district are closed, and people are prohibited from entering and exiting. Daily necessities are delivered to residents by local community workers, according to a statement by the district government. The first case in this cluster was a 75-year-old woman who tested positive for the variant first identified in India. The woman did not have a travel history but was believed to be connected to an imported case, the government said.
Opinion: Why I’m grateful I lost my parents before India’s horrific Covid-19 surge
CNN’s Pallabi Munsi lost both of her parents to Covid-19 last year in the span of 10 days. Despite the grief, she explains why she is grateful that they did not live to witness this year’s second wave in India — where systemic failures in central and state governments exacerbated a steep shortage of resources in the country’s health infrastructure.
The disaster has also threatened India’s economy, which was turning a corner earlier this year as the country started to accelerate out of the recession it suffered in 2020.
ON OUR RADAR
- Vaccinated people are taking Krispy Kreme up on its free doughnuts offer. The chain said it has given away over 1.5 million doughnuts since it announced the deal in March.
- The United Kingdom could be seeing the early signs of a third wave and should delay lifting all coronavirus restrictions as planned on June 21, a scientific adviser to the government said.
- Top bankers can now bypass Hong Kong’s strict quarantine rules as long as they are fully vaccinated. They would still be required to book rooms at quarantine hotels, or stay in another approved location, but would be allowed to move about the city for scheduled business meetings.
- Japan is considering requiring a negative Covid-19 test or vaccination certificate for any spectator wishing to enter an Olympic venue, Japanese media reported Monday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.
- Severe acute childhood malnutrition in Haiti is expected to more than double this year as the country deals with rising violence, the pandemic and a lack of access to essential services, according to UNICEF.