Why the WHO skipped the letters “Nu” and “Xi” to name the Omicron variant

WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Reuters) (POOL /)

The name of the recently identified coronavirus variant has caused some social media users to doubt the World Health Organization’s system for labeling virus strains, as authorities skipped two letters for their designation.

WHO on Friday opted for call the variant “omicron”, which was first notified to the agency by South African scientists, continuing their use of the Greek alphabet to name notable variants of the virus.

However, social media users correctly pointed out that the organization skipped two letters in doing so, “nu” and “xi”, which led to questioning the measure.

The WHO has followed the Greek alphabet when labeling certain variants of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, since May. Since then he explains that the system allows the variants to be referred to in a simpler way than by their scientific names. Additionally, the system helps prevent people from referring to variants by where they were detected, which could create stigma.

Many people expected the agency to label the latest variant “nu,” which comes after “mu,” a strain designated on August 30.

In a statement provided to the agency AP, the WHO clarified that I had omitted the nu for clarity reasons (since in English it sounds very similar to “new”, new) and the xi so as not to offend anyone.

The clarification came after many users on social networkshoisted because it is a common surname ”, explained the WHO, adding that the agency’s “good practices for naming diseases suggest avoiding ‘causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic group.”

The statement came after many users on social networks suspiciously slip that the decision sought to avoid offending Chinese leader Xi Jinping, after two years in which the Geneva-based organization has been accused of not being strict enough with the Asian giant.

FILE PHOTO Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
WHO Director Tedros Adhanom and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Reuters) (POOL New /)

Xi is such a common family name in China that the transliteration actually includes 11 different surnames that are spelled differently in Mandarin and other dialects.

Recommended practices for “christening” the variants are outlined in a document released by the agency in May 2015. The organization then said it wanted to “minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people” by naming the infectious diseases.

This is the first time the organization has skipped letters since it started using the Greek alphabet for coronavirus variants. He had previously used the alphabet to label 12 others. Alpha, beta, gamma and delta are currently “worrying variants” like omicron. Lambda and mu receive the less serious designation of “variant of interest.” Another six letters were assigned to ancient 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 people. The WHO said on Friday that preliminary tests “suggest an increased risk of reinfection” compared to other variants of interest.

But scientists are still investigating what exactly the genetic changes mean, to find out if the variant is more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication that the variant causes a more serious illness.

(With information from AP)


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