Officials at the World Health Organisations skipped two letters of the Greek alphabet when naming the latest Covid variant in order to avoid “stigmatising” China, and perhaps its premier Xi Jinping.
A WHO source confirmed the letters Nu and Xi had been deliberately avoided. Nu had been skipped to avoid confusion with the word “new” and Xi had been ducked to “avoid stigmatising the region”, they said.
Since May, new variants of Sars-COV-2 have been given sequential names from the Greek alphabet under a naming convention devised by an expert committee at the WHO.
The system was chosen to prevent variants becoming known by the names of the places where they were first detected, which can be stigmatising and discriminatory.
Initially, most commentators assumed the B.1.1.529 variant, which was first found in Botswana, would be given the name Nu – the 13th letter of the Greek alphabet – but plays on the word “new” immediately spread across the internet.
Then on Friday evening, after a meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), the WHO announced that two letters would in fact be skipped and the new variant named Omicron.
The reasoning for avoiding the numeral Xi, which is also the name of the Chinese premier, was not officially spelt out by the WHO in its press statement on the virus but was explained to The Telegraph on inquiry.
On Saturday the WHO media office was giving out a slightly adjusted reasoning.
Dr Margaret Harris of the WHO told the New York Post: “[For] Nu the reasoning was people would get confused thinking it was the new variant, rather than a name.
“And XI because it’s a common surname and we have agreed [to] naming rules that avoid using place names, people’s names, animal, etc. to avoid stigma.”
Read more via The Telegraph