WHO Explains Naming of Omicron Variant

Several letters were skipped to land on Omicron.

Several letters were skipped to land on Omicron.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has been classifying each of its newly-discovered variants using the letters of the Greek alphabet. The initial variant was the Alpha, then there were Beta and Gamma variants, followed by the infamous Delta variant. Between the discovery of Delta and now, there were actually eight other variants, including Epsilon, Iota, Lambda, and others, but thankfully, these variants weren’t able to pick up traction.

With the discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa, however, some have noted that the WHO skipped over two Greek letters: Nu and Xi. According to the WHO, there were good reasons for not using either of these two letters.

“Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and Xi was not used because it is a common surname,” the organization explained in an emailed statement to CNN. “And WHO best practices for naming new diseases suggest ‘avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.'”

There is definitely some truth to the latter concern, as many still associate the coronavirus with the city of Wuhan where it was discovered, and by extension, China and its populace. This is why the WHO has been making an effort to refrain from naming and categorizing diseases based on their points of origin.

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