The WHO says that the new COVID variant should be referred to as the “Delta variant”. So why are newspapers still calling it the “Indian” variant? 

By Emma Ireland, Hacked Off Intern

To combat people making links between a variant and the country, the WHO have said that all COVID variants should be referred to as different letters of the Greek alphabet. The General Secretary of the UN recently warned that “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering”, and encouraged the media and other parts of society to do what they can to fight the wave of racism and hate speech associated with the virus.  We saw the onslaught of hate suffered by East Asian communities after the first virus hit the news – inspired in part, quite possibly, by references to the “Chinese virus” in the media.


It’s not possible to confirm a link between hate crime and explicitly associating a variant with a country in this way.  But given the risk – and the calls of experts – why are some newspapers persisting with naming variants according to their perceived country of origin?


For example, in various articles, The Sun refer to the “rapid spread of the Indian variant”, “the new Nepal mutation of the Indian variant” and “…to stop the spread of the Indian variant”. 


The Times even uses the ‘Indian variant’ in their headline in an article


The Daily Mail is also not innocent of this – referring to “Indian variant hotspots” in a headline. 


In fairness, it isn’t just the press. The BBC published an article headlined, Covid: Indian variant ‘now dominant’ in the UK at the start of June. The article goes on to refer to the variant as Delta –  so why use the country of origin in the title?


The idea of giving these variants neutral names avoids the risk of fueling xenophobic hate. News sources, from where most people will learn about these variants, have a responsibility to help fight virus-related stigmatism and racism . Using the official names for the variants should not be too much to ask.

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