UPSC » UPSC CSE Study Materials » Governance » A List of Names by WHO for Covid 19 Variants

A List of Names by WHO for Covid 19 Variants

Comprehensive list of the new Variants of Covid-19. Learn about the classification of the Variant classes, reason for renaming, and top variants of Covid-19.

Since the Covid-19 started rapidly spreading through the global regions in early 2020, new virus variations started coming up. 

The Variants had some similarities and dissimilarities in the region where they originated. So, officially, they were referred to as their region of origin or their scientific names. 

This practice was highly controversial and received extreme criticism due to the difficulty of differentiating. 

Following this, WHO renamed all Variants with Greek alphabetic names in the recent system. Here, we discuss them further.

What is a Covid Variant?

Covid Variants, or the SARS-CoV-2 Variants, are viruses that adapt and modify over time and have a tendency to modify further as they circulate. A variant, in definition, refers to the viruses that have at least one mutation from the original virus. 

In some cases, the virus Variants develop on their own. For the Covid-19 Variants, few options like the Omicron and Delta are highly contagious. 

What were the Original Covid-19 Variant Names?

With the increasing number of Covid Variants coming up, there was a huge scramble to name them in specific terms. Initially, the practice was to name them as per their scientific names. However, the numerical-based scientific names, like B.1.617.2 variant in India and B.1.351 variant in South Africa, were harder to differentiate or remember for regular citizens.

Additionally, they were called as per their country of origin, which also was vastly criticized. For example, with rumors about the virus originating in China, there were many visible instances of hate crimes against the Asian community.  

After that, the WHO (World Health Organization) came up with a new system and revealed an updated list of names of Variants. They renamed them according to the Greek alphabetical names in a systematic order. 

For example, under the current system, the Kent variant is called Alpha, the variant in South Africa is called Beta, and the one in India is called Delta variant. 

New Names for Covid-19 Variants 

WHO began developing a new system of classification for the Coronavirus versions. The organization was deliberating on naming them based on Greek mythology Gods and Goddesses. Finally, they settled on Green alphabetical names. The following are the new names of Variants for each version. 

Scientific Name


New Name





South Africa 








B.1.427, B.1.429

















Class Structure of Covid Variants 

The Variants for Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 fall under the classification scheme of SIG Variant. There are four classes of notes. 

VBM/Variant Being Monitored 

The following are the Variants that fall under this category. 

  • The B.1.1.7/Q lineages of Alpha 
  • B.1.351/descendant lineages of Beta
  • P.1/descendant lineages of Gamma
  • B.1.617.2/AY lineages of Delta 
  • Eta 
  • Epsilon 
  • Kappa 
  • Iota 
  • Zeta 
  • Mu (B.1.621/B.1.621.1)

VOC/Variant of Concern 

The Omicron Variants like BA.1, B.1.1.529, BA.1.1, BA.4, BA.3, BA.2, and BA.5 lineages are Variants of concern. 

VOI/Variant of Interest

None of the notable Covid-19 Variants at the moment fall under this category. 

VOHC/Variant of High Consequence

Like VOI, there is no variant that the organization is considering as a Variant of High consequences among the SAR-CoV-2 Variants. 

Notable Covid-19 Variants

While there are multiple versions of Covid-19 Variants, particular ones are most notable due to their infection rate/mortality rate. Here are the top versions.

Omicron Variant 

This version was originally seen in South Africa. On 30th November 2021, the SIG team under the U.S. Government declared the variant as a Variant of Concern. Compared to its predecessors, the Omicron virus is considered the most dangerous. 

WHO reports state that the virus is extremely contagious, highly mutated, and spread fast via contact. It holds more than 50 mutations, and 30 of them exist in the spike protein of the virus. Therefore, it can potentially infect vaccinated individuals as well. 

The variant saw a little bit of decline, and therefore the SIG declared the variant as a Variant Being Monitored on 14th April 2022. 

Delta Variant 

This variant was first visible in India, starting its spread over the region around October 2020. This was a dominant strain that rapidly spread throughout the region, affecting a lot of victims. 

This variant’s mortality rate is high and is considered one of the most dangerous Covid Variants. The common symptoms include difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, drop in oxygen levels in the body, and more. 

Gamma Variant 

This started in Brazil in November 2020 and was classified as a VOC in January 2021. The transmissibility rate here was 2.2 times more and affected mostly elderly individuals and adults. 

MU Variant 

This Covid variant was noticed in Colombia initially, starting its spread in January 2021. There were worrisome mutations noticeable in the virus’ spike protein. However, its effect is less risky than Omicron.


Indeed, there are multiple types of Covid Variants available with the constant mutations of the virus over time. The names of each variant were updated due to the increased discontent against the original names due to social issues and being difficult to remember. 

Currently, the one variant of most concern is the Omicron variant due to its high transmissibility rate and ability to damage vaccinated immunity. Each version is classified under four categories as per the WHO and U.S. SIG institutions.


Frequently asked questions

Get answers to the most common queries related to the UPSC Examination Preparation.

How do Covid Variants occur, and how do scientists identify them?

Ans. The Variants of any virus occur due to mutations in the composition of th...Read full

Differentiate between VOC and VOI.

Ans. VOI, or Variant of Interest, are those viruses that hold mutations that ...Read full

How to protect against the Covid 19 Variants?

Ans. For protection against the different Covid-19 Variants, regardless of th...Read full

How is WHO studying Omicron?

Ans. To combat Omicron, WHO is working with a team of top researchers from va...Read full