The COVID-19 variant
What will they do when they run out of letters of the Greek alphabet?
By Byron Toben
January 6, 2022
In the beginning, there were confusing alpha-numeric designations for the increasing COVID-19 (itself a SARS-like derivative) such as B.220.127.116.11. While the name designators at the World Health Organization (WHO) did not take me up on my half-joking WestmountMag suggestion to use types of baseball pitches as names (A call for simpler naming of COVID-19 variants), they did select the 24-letter Greek Alphabet instead, which seemed a good choice but puzzling in its publicity.
Delta (the fourth Greek letter) was the first released to the general public as a danger, with no mentions of the first three – Alpha, Beta and Gamma. This puzzlement was made grandiose when the next warning was for Omicron (the fifteenth), and even more confusing when the non-scientific reasons for omitting the 13th (NU) and 14th (Xi) were given – NU sounds like new and XI is the name of the president of China.
Delta (the fourth Greek letter) was the first released to the general public as a danger, with no mentions of the first three – Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
But what happened to letters 5 through 12? Following the Biblical suggestion, “Seek and Ye shall Find”, I sought and here is what I found:
The WHO has different descending levels of danger:
- Variants of concern – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Omicron
- Variants of interest – Lamda (11th ) and Mu (12th )
- Variants under monitoring – Eta (7th), Theta (8th ) and Iota (9th)
- Variants removed from monitoring – Epsilon (5th) and Zeta (6th)
Should the WHO name designators run out of the nine remaining unused Greek letters, they might consider the English alphabet (26 letters) or even the Arabic (28) or Hebrew (30 letters), or the more complicated Russian (33), Japanese (46) and Hindi characters (50). Saints preserve us from ever having to resort to the Kmer alphabet of Cambodia (74 letters!)
‘Saints preserve us from ever having to resort to the Kmer alphabet of Cambodia (74 letters!)’
Ah for the good old days of diseases yore, when, horrible as they were – typhus, typhoid, polio, cholera, smallpox, etc. – naming variants was not a problem.
Feature image: howstuffworks.com
More articles from Byron Toben
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.
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