‘Delta’: why the Greek names of the Covid variants are taking off | Books

The policy of naming the variants of the plague was heavy even before Donald Trump started talking about the “Chinese virus”. The Spaniards were not thrilled to be officially blamed for the 1918 pandemic of “Spanish flu”, now known as H1N1. But strings of numbers and letters are hard to follow, so maybe there’s a middle ground between those and the demonization of perfectly innocent geographies. Just because a nasty new bug is first noticed in a place doesn’t mean it originated there.

It is for such reasons, in fact, that biomedical authorities have decided to start using more neutral names for what are euphemistically called “variants of concern.” The ‘Indian variant’ of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, now the most prevalent in the UK thanks to Boris Johnson’s liberal policy with the borders he has regained control of, has been renamed Delta, being the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet. (Kent was alpha, beta from South Africa, and gamma from Brazil.)

Sad to report, the more xenophobic sections of the press did not really enter into the spirit of this new practice, continuing to refer to “the Indian ‘delta’ variant”. Meanwhile, US airline Delta is probably eagerly awaiting the discovery of epsilon.

A word for every day of the year by Steven Poole is published by Quercus.

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