Why WHO skip ‘Nu’ and ‘Xi’ to name new COVID variant as Omicron

Why WHO skip 'Nu' and 'Xi' to name new COVID variant as Omicron

The naming decision of new Covid variant as Omicron went viral on Twitter. Several netizens questioning the procedure used to choose the name, whether WHO skip “Nu” and “Xi” to avoid antagonizing China.

Scientists are concerned about the appearance of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Countries are implementing travel bans, financial markets are collapsing, and the Internet is buzzing about how the new name was chosen.

The World Health Organization agreed on Friday to name the new strain — B.1.1.529 — Omicron and classify it as a ‘variant of concern’ due to a huge number of changes, some of which are worrying.

But not Nu and Xi for new COVID variant

The naming decision rapidly went viral on Twitter, with several netizens questioning the procedure used to choose the name and whether the UN health agency did so to avoid antagonizing China.

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.’

Many people had expected the agency to label the latest variant Nu, which comes after Mu, a variant designated on August 30. Instead, the WHO skipped over nu as well as Xi, the next Greek letter in line.

WHO avoids to offence China?

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, the group 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.

United States Senator Ted Cruz retweeted a Telegraph editor who cited a WHO source saying Xi was skipped to “avoid stigmatising a region.”

“If the WHO is this scared of the Chinese Communist Party, how can they be trusted to call them out next time they’re trying to cover up a catastrophic global pandemic?” Cruz wrote in his tweet. He called out Beijing, which has already come under massive scrutiny over its role in the outbreak of the virus.

Martin Kulldorf, an epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, also turned to Twitter to discuss the new strain’s designation.

He speculated that the WHO jumped the alphabet and dubbed the new variant ‘Omicron’ to avoid having to label a coronavirus variant the ‘Xi’ strain in the future.

First time WHO skips letters to name Covid variants

This is the first time the organisation has skipped letters since it began using the Greek alphabet for coronavirus variants; it has previously used the alphabet to label 12 others.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta are all currently “variants of concern” like Omicron. Lambda and Mu are given the less serious “variant of interest” designation. Six other letters were assigned to former variants of interest.

The Omicron variant appears to have a high number of mutations in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to humans. According to the WHO, preliminary evidence “suggests an increased risk of reinfection” when compared to other variants of concern.

However, scientists are still investigating exactly what the genetic changes mean in order to determine whether the variant is more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no evidence that the variant causes more severe disease.

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