COVID-19 variants could be named after constellations once Greek alphabet is used up, WHO official says

New coronavirus strains could be named after constellations once the Greek alphabet is used up, a World Health Organisation (WHO) boss has suggested.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, also warned it is “possible” new variants could emerge which evade vaccines.

The agency started naming new mutations after letters of the Greek alphabet back in May.

So far, 11 variants have been named – including the Delta, Beta and Alpha strains.

Dr Van Kerkhove told the Telegraph the WHO is looking at new names in case they go through all 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.

At the moment, constellations are being considered.

This means coronavirus variants could be named after constellations such as Orion, Leo, Gemini and Aries.

Dr Van Kerkhove told the newspaper: “We will possibly run out of the Greek alphabet, but we’re already looking at the next series of names.

“We’re actually considering star constellations. We were going to go with Greek gods or goddesses, and I said please, please don’t make me say that publicly.”

The WHO is looking at proposals to make sure no one is upset with the names, she added.

She previously warned naming variants after where they are first identified can end up “stigmatising” a country or place.

Last year, she made a request for a naming system to avoid this happening.

Meanwhile, she claimed new variants which evade measures such as vaccines are a “real threat”.

This is why it is “critical” countries don’t just rely on jabs, but “do everything we can” to drive transmission down, she added.

The WHO official also warned a dangerous new mutation is more likely to emerge in places with intense transmission rates, in animal populations or in areas with high vaccination rates where COVID is still widely circulating.

It comes after early analysis suggested coronavirus levels in people with the Delta strain may be similar regardless of whether or not they had the jab.

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