Here’s what to know about OMICRON definition and the new variant which The World Health Organization (WHO) has named as omicron.
What is OMICRON?
Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 70. This letter is derived from the Phoenician letter ayin Phoenician ayin.svg. In classical Greek, omicron represented the sound [o] in contrast to omega [ɔː] and ου [oː]. In modern Greek, omicron represents the mid back rounded vowel /o̞/ , the same sound as omega. Letters that arose from omicron include Roman O and Cyrillic O.
- Used in Mathematics: The upper-case letter of omicron (O) was originally used in mathematics as a symbol for Big O notation (representing a function’s asymptotic growth rate), but has fallen out of favor because omicron is indistinguishable from the Latin letter O and easily confused with the digit zero (0).
- Used in Greek numerals: There were several systems for writing numbers in Greek; the most common form used in late classical era used omicron (either upper or lower case) to represent the value 70.
- Used in Astronomy: Omicron is used to designate the fifteenth star in a constellation group, its ordinal placement an irregular function of both magnitude and position. Such stars include Omicron Andromedae, Omicron Ceti, and Omicron Persei.
On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization declared a new variant of concern of COVID-19, named Omicron according to the WHO naming system. The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021.
What is the omicron variant?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a new coronavirus variant to be “of concern” and named it Omicron.
Here’s the announcement of WHO about new variant named Omicrone:
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.
This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.
There are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with Member States and to the public as needed.
Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.
World races to contain new COVID threat
A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.
“It seems to spread rapidly,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”
In response to the variant’s discovery in southern Africa, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.
The White House said the U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning Monday. Biden said that means “no travel” to or from the designated countries except for returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents who test negative.
Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.
Omicron has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as in southern Africa.
Why WHO skip ‘Nu’ and ‘Xi’ to name new COVID variant as Omicron
The WHO has traditionally named novel virus strains using the Greek alphabet. On May 31, 2021, the World Health Organization chose this strategy. The goal was to make sure that the labels for the variants were simple to say and remember. The naming approach was also designed to prevent assigning a geographical stigma to a COVID-19 version.
According to the WHO, the new strain discovered in South Africa should have been dubbed ‘Nu’ or ‘Xi.’
In a statement, the WHO said it skipped Nu for clarity and Xi to avoid causing offence generally.
“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name,” the WHO said, adding that the agency’s “best practices for naming disease suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.‘”
According to internet pundits and politicians, WHO omitted Nu to prevent misunderstanding with the term “new.” They also stated that Xi was omitted to prevent antagonizing China and its leader, Xi Jinping.
New Omicron cases detected as COVID variant spreads
New cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected around the world, with two cases reported in Australia, as more countries try to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.
First discovered in South Africa, Omicron has since been recorded in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom.
More detail: New Omicron cases detected as COVID variant spreads
More detail: 9 things to know about the Omicron COVID variant