The new system applies to variants of concern – the most troubling of which four are in circulation – and the second-level variants of interest being tracked.
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said in a statement.
“As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.”
The four coronavirus variants considered of concern by the United Nations agency and known generally by the public as the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India variants have now been given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta according to the order of their detection.
Other variants of interest continue down the alphabet.
“The labels don’t replace existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research,” WHO’s technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted.