The World Health Organization appeared to skip two letters in the Greek alphabet when it announced Friday the name for the latest coronavirus variant, Omicron.
Nu and Xi were apparently the next letters in the Greek alphabet that have yet to be used for a variant, according to data on their website.
People speculated that the group skipped Nu to avoid confusion with the word “new” and passed on Xi because of its written similarity to the name of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“[For] Nu the reasoning was people would get confused thinking it was the new variant, rather than a name,” Dr. Margaret Harris said.
“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.”
Scientists first detected the Omicron variant on Tuesday in samples dated from Nov. 14-16. Reports say that the variant was first detected in South Africa.
An advisory panel classified Omicron as a highly transmissible virus of concern and gave it its name under its Greek-letter system.
It marks the first time in months that WHO has classified a COVID-19 variant with such a name – and is only the fifth variant to be given the designation amid the pandemic.
It is the same category that includes the Delta variant, which quickly became the world’s most prevalent strain.
It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant’s mutations, but the WHO panel said early evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection.
Health authorities are now rushing to determine if Omicron is more transmissible or infectious than other variants — and if the vaccines are effective against it.
Britain has already put six African countries, including South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, on its red list – which means arriving travelers have to quarantine for 10 days in a government facility.
The EU said Friday it would move to ban flights from southern African countries.
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