Sunday, May 22, 2022

Omicron: Why WHO Skipped 'Xi' While Naming New Covid-19 Variant

World Health Organization (WHO) this time skipped two other Greek letters 'Nu' and 'Xi' before settling for 'Omicron' as the name for the new strain of SARS-CoV2 which is believed to have originated from South Africa.

Omicron: Why WHO Skipped 'Xi' While Naming New Covid-19 Variant
Representational Image PTI

Just when the world breathed a little sigh of relief after a prolonged period of living within confinements, stringent protocols and restrictions, thrashing all the hopes of restoring normalcy, a new strain of coronavirus ‘Omicron’ surfaced with all new sets of speculations and fear for all.

Apart from turning everyone busy in speculating the biological potential of the strain and the probable extent of damages it can cause, the nomenclature of the Omicron variant, which is also known by its more scientific designation B.1.1.529,  has also made news this time as before settling for  'Omicron', World Health Organization (WHO) skipped two other Greek letters.

Here's all about it.

Why Greek letters are used for naming the strains?

In a bid to rule out all the possibilities of confusion regarding the complicated scientific names of the various ‘variants of interest’ or ‘variants of concern’, World Health Organization (WHO), the apex global health body, so far has been categorically leaning on Greek letters for the purpose of naming the various strains of of SARS-CoV2.

Why WHO skipped two Greek letters this time?

For some valid reasons, WHO this time, decided to stick to ‘Omicron’ after skipping two Greek letters ‘nu’ and ‘xi’.

According to WHO, ‘Nu’ could have been confused with the word ‘new’ while Xi was not picked up in order to avoid targeting any particular community as it’s a very common surname shared by many Chinese people, in fact including the Chinese President. 

“Two letters were skipped – Nu and Xi – because Nu is too easily confounded with “new” and XI was not used because it is a common surname and WHO best practices for naming new diseases (developed in conjunction with FAO and OIE back in 2015) suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups’, the WHO said in a statement.

How so far Greek letters have been used in naming variants?

Apart from ruling out the confusions amongst the scientific names, WHO switched to Greek letters for nomenclature to remove the country names (i.e UK variant, Indian variant etc.) as well  which instigated a lot of name-calling previously.

So far, 12 Greek letters have already been utilized for the nomenclature purpose.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron- these are the current 'variants of concern' (VOC). while two 'variants of interest' (VOI) are named as Lambda and Mu.