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The real reason why the WHO skipped ‘nu’ and ‘xi’ when naming the omicron variant

The WHO skipped two letters before naming the new variant omicron. Here’s why

Scientist holds a swab and specimen vial in a COVID-19 testing lab.
James Robson, a biomedical engineering graduate student, holds a swab and specimen vial in the new on-campus COVID-19 testing lab, Thursday, July 23, 2020, at Boston University in Boston. The World Health Organization skipped two Greek letters before choosing the name omicron for the latest COVID-19 variant.
Charles Krupa, Associated Press

The World Health Organization skipped two Greek letters before choosing the name omicron for the latest COVID-19 variant.

What is the omicron variant?

Over the weekend, South African researchers announced the discovery of a new coronavirus variant, giving it the scientific name B.1.1.529, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

So, naturally, everyone waited to know what the variant would be named. The WHO has been using Greek alphabet letters to name the different coronavirus variants that have popped up in recent months, as the Deseret News reported.

  • For example, the WHO has named variants alpha, beta, gamma and delta, along with some lesser-known variants like epsilon and lambda.

Why is it called omicron?

Just this week, the WHO named another new variant omicron after the letter in the Greek alphabet. But one look shows that the WHO skipped two letters.

  • The WHO skipped the letters nu and xi when naming the new variant.

So why did the WHO not use those letters? The WHO said it was because they already have meaning in the real world, per CNN.

  • “Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and xi was not used because it is a common surname,” the WHO said in an email to CNN.
  • “And WHO best practices for naming new diseases suggest ‘avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”