It didn’t take long for science to come up with a new use for the Greek alphabet. We’ll now refer to COVID-19 variants with Greek letters.
The Greek alphabet didn’t receive much time to rest after the World Meteorological Organization retired them! Scientists studying and tracking COVID-19 variants quickly put them back to work.
A few months ago, after last year’s record-breaking hurricane season, WMO announced it would no longer use Greek letters for hurricane names. You’ll recall that during the 2020 season, we saw 30 named storms. The traditional lists of names for hurricanes only contain 21 options. That suffices most years. The first year we dipped into the Greek letters was 2005, when we made it to Zeta. But last year, we made it all the way to Iota.
So starting with this year’s hurricane season, they’ll roll out a second list of names if necessary.
The Greek alphabet’s “retirement,” however, didn’t last very long.
COVID-19 variants to be named with letters, not countries
Our previous president seemed to take delight in referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus.” (That’s when he wasn’t denying it was real, of course.) COVID-19 was first reported in China.
Of course, most of us know by now that COVID-19 was a legitimate illness. And I imagine that most reasonably intelligent people know that a virus doesn’t care where its first case happened. A virus spends its time looking for its next host so that it can reproduce and go on living.
If it were only a “China virus,” you could have lined up residents of neighboring Mongolia along the border and they’d have been immune.
We know now that this virus does not discriminate. We also know from numerous news reports that when you use names like that, some people will discriminate. Some blame China for the pandemic and we see reports of attacks on Asians because of that.
Hoping to stop further incidents of violence and discrimination, the World Health Organization decided to rename COVID-19 variants.
There are four primary variants of COVID-19, each named for the country in which doctors first detected them: the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and India.
Hereafter, those variants will be named for Greek letters. The U.K. variant will now be called the Alpha variant. South Africa gets Beta. The former Brazil variant will become the Gamma variant. The variant first found in India takes the letter Delta.
I wish they would have come up with this sooner.
“No country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants,” the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said on Twitter.
I couldn’t agree more.
It will take time to get used to this, and for clarity, news reports will have to refer to both names — at least for a while. So as not to confuse people, journalists will have to write things like, “The Alpha variant, formally known as the U.K. variant” or “The Delta variant, first detected in India” so people know which variant is which.
So they won’t immediately be able to accomplish what they hope to.
Aside from the four main variants, there are six additional ones researchers are keeping an eye on. Two of them, Epsilon and Iota, were first detected in the United States. I somehow think that if they hadn’t switched to Greek letters, these two still wouldn’t be called the “U.S. variants.”
I hope none of the additional six — no matter where tests first discovered them — give us any more problems.
I’m sure you’d agree that we’ve all had more than enough of COVID-19.