WHO labels Wuhan virus mutants spotted in India as 'Delta' and 'Kappa'
01 June 2021
The new variant of the Wuhan virus or the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness, that was first found in India will be referred to as 'Delta' while earlier found variant in the country will be known as 'Kappa.'
While the Wuhan virus mutants found in India has been renamed to link it to this country, the original Wuhan virus is yet to be labelled to reflect its Chinese origins. “The labels will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion of variant of concern and variant of interest VOI/VOC,” says WHO.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the new naming system has been devised for so-called variants of interest and variants of concern, the forms of the Wuhan virus with important mutations.
Each variant will be given a name from the Greek alphabet, in a bid to both simplify the public discussion and to strip some of the stigma from the emergence of new variants. A country may be more willing to report it has found a new variant if it knows the new version of the virus will be identified as Rho or Sigma rather than with the country’s name, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s coronavirus lead, said.
"They will not replace existing scientific names, but are aimed to help in public discussion of variant of concern and variant of interest VOI/VOC," she further stated.
Under the new scheme, B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in Britain, will be known as Alpha and B.1.351, the variant first spotted in South Africa, will be Beta. P.1, the variant first detected in Brazil, will be Gamma and B.1.671.2, variant first found in India is Delta, while earlier found variant in the country will be known as 'Kappa'.
When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted, another series like it will be announced, Van Kerkhove said.
"No country should be stigmatised for detecting and reporting variants. Globally, we need robust surveillance for variants, incl epi, molecular and sequencing to be carried out and shared. We need to continue to do all we can to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2," the WHO official further added.
A plan to simplify the nomenclature of the variants has been in the works for several months, led by the WHO’s Virus Evolution Working Group. But it was surprisingly tricky to come up with an acceptable system, Van Kerkhove said.
“We’re not saying replace B.1.1.7, but really just to try to help some of the dialogue with the average person," Van Kerkhove explained. “So that in public discourse, we could discuss some of these variants in more easy-to-use language."
“I heard it’s sometimes quite a challenge to come to an agreement with regards to nomenclature. This was a relatively straightforward discussion in getting to the point where everybody agreed," Konings said.
The WHO will maintain a list of variants with their new names on its website.