Delta CEO reveals he's still refusing to call it the Delta variant

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A Delta Air Lines flight.
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  • Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian still isn't referring to the latest coronavirus variant as "Delta."
  • Instead, he uses the scientific name, B.1.617.2. He's also said Delta just calls it "the variant."
  • Delta's chief health officer has joked that B.1.617.2 "is so much more simple to say and remember…"
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Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian still refuses to call the Delta variant by its common name.

In a letter sent to employees on Wednesday announcing new health and safety requirement for airline staff, Bastian laid out the risks associated with the latest variant of the novel coronavirus. The variant is technically called the B.1.617.2 variant, but it's more commonly known as the Delta variant, a moniker that Bastian has so far refused to use publicly.

"Over the past few weeks, the fight has changed with the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant - a very aggressive form of the virus," Bastian wrote in his memo. "Our Chief Health Officer, Dr Henry Ting, describes the variant as a 'heat-seeking missile' that transmits predominantly through the unvaccinated community."

The variant's spread prompted Bastian to institute new rules on masks, testing, and vaccines for the airline's employees, including indoor masking and weekly testing for unvaccinated employees. (The airline has been requiring all new hires to get vaccinated since May, though this is the first time it's instituted rules for current employees.)

Unvaccinated Delta employees will now also be required to pay a R3,000 monthly surcharge on their health insurance to offset "the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company," Bastian said.

"In recent weeks since the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant, all Delta employees who have been hospitalised with Covid were not fully vaccinated," he said.

But Bastian's letter also further emphasised his desire to distance his company from the highly contagious strain of the virus. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal's Alison Sider last month, Bastian said that the company isn't referring the variant as "Delta" - "We just call it the variant," Bastian said, later adding that the airline hasn't seen "any drop off at all" in terms of its business, despite the unfortunate naming coincidence.

Ting, Delta's chief health officer, appears to have found a sliver of humour in the situation, tweeting earlier this summer that they "prefer to call it the B.1.617.2 variant since that is so much more simple to say and remember…"

The World Health Organization announced in June that it would begin naming coronavirus variants after letters of the Greek alphabet, rather than the countries in which they were discovered. The scientific names of the variant are more challenging to say, which has led to people calling variants by their country of origin, a practice the WHO called "stigmatising and discriminatory."

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