The World Health Organization said it skipped two letters in the Greek alphabet when it named the new variant of concern Omicron precisely to avoid confusion and discrimination.
Had the order been followed, the variant that comes after Mu should have been named Nu, which would be confusing to English speakers since it sounds like "new" or worse, Xi, the family name of Chinese president Xi Jinping.
So, the WHO skipped two letters and settled with Omicron, Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told The New York Times.
Jasarevic said the WHO names COVID variants with the goal of avoiding “offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.” He did not specifically mention China's leader Xi except for saying that the name was common.
The WHO has named coronavirus variants using the Greek alphabet to do away with scientific jargon and avoid stigmatizing countries where they first emerged. For example, the dominant B.1.617.2 variant, first detected in India, was named Delta.
Since its discovery over the weekend in southern Africa, Omicron has forced some countries to shut borders to prevent fresh outbreaks ahead of Christmas.
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