How Did Omicron, the New Covid-19 Variant, Get Its Name?

How Did Omicron, the New Covid-19 Variant, Get Its Name?

Markets plunged on Friday, hope of taming the coronavirus dimmed and a brand new time period entered the pandemic lexicon: Omicron.

The Covid-19 variant that emerged in South Africa was named after the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.

The naming system, introduced by the World Health Organization in May, makes public communication about variants simpler and fewer complicated, the company and consultants mentioned.

For instance, the variant that emerged in India will not be popularly referred to as B.1.617.2. Rather, it is named Delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.

There at the moment are seven “variants of interest” or “variants of concern” and so they every have a Greek letter, in line with a W.H.O. monitoring web page.

Some different variants with Greek letters don’t attain these classification ranges, and the W.H.O. additionally skipped two letters simply earlier than Omicron — “Nu” and “Xi” — resulting in hypothesis about whether or not “Xi” was averted in deference to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’” Tarik Jasarevic, a W.H.O. spokesman, mentioned on Saturday. “And ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name.”

He added that the company’s finest practices for naming illnesses counsel avoiding “causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

Some of the better-known variants, reminiscent of Delta, rose to a variant of concern. Others in that class have been named Alpha, Beta and Gamma. Others that emerged, which have been variants of curiosity, have been named Lambda and Mu. Other Greek letters have been used for variants that didn’t meet these thresholds however Nu and Xi have been the one ones that have been skipped.

The W.H.O. has promoted the naming system as easy and accessible, in contrast to the variants’ scientific names, which “can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” it mentioned.

Some researchers agree.


Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist on the University of Saskatchewan, mentioned she performed many interviews with reporters this yr, earlier than the Greek naming system was introduced, and he or she stumbled by means of complicated explanations concerning the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants. They at the moment are referred to as Alpha, which emerged within the United Kingdom, and Beta, which emerged in South Africa.

“It makes it really cumbersome to talk about when you’re constantly using an alphabet soup of variant designations,” she mentioned, including, “Ultimately people end up calling it the U.K. variant or the South African variant.”

That’s the opposite large purpose that the W.H.O. moved to the Greek naming system, Dr. Rasmussen mentioned: The older naming conference was unfair to the individuals the place the virus emerged. The company referred to as the observe of describing variants by the locations they have been detected “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”

The observe of naming viruses for areas has additionally traditionally been deceptive, Dr. Rasmussen mentioned. Ebola, for instance, is known as for a river that’s truly removed from the place the virus emerged.

“From the very beginning of the pandemic, I remember people saying: ‘We called it the Spanish flu. Why don’t we call it the Wuhan coronavirus?’” Dr. Rasmussen mentioned. “The Spanish flu did not come from Spain. We don’t know where it emerged from, but there’s a very good possibility it emerged from the U.S.”

The W.H.O. inspired nationwide authorities and media shops to undertake the brand new labels. They don’t substitute the technical names, which convey essential info to scientists and can proceed for use in analysis.

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