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COVID Omicron: Here's why WHO skipped two Greek letters to name new strain

The WHO skipped Nu and Xi and went straight to Omicron, which it has designated for the variant discovered in Southern Africa
UPDATED NOV 27, 2021
A man enters the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 15, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A man enters the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 15, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Global corporations from Apple to Nike have all been forced to tread a careful line when it comes to China. The Communist Party (CCP) maintains strict control on its image, which has often caused headaches for the NBA, Disney, and Zara. Now, it seems like even the World Health Organization (WHO) is bowing down to China. The WHO skipped two letters when naming the new Covid-19 variant of concern (which has been named Omicron), which quickly became a hot-button topic.

China has proven to be a thorny issue for the US, with the pandemic only accelerating issues between the two nations. In May 2020, the FBI accused China of targeting US research firms. The same month, an intelligence report claimed China "hid the severity of Covid" from the world. And of course, many including the former President have accused China of creating Covid-19 as a bioweapon.


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Republicans have only been too glad to up the pressure on the country, so when the November 26 report came to light, they were quick to jump on. Senator Ted Cruz attacked the WHO for bowing to China, which also sparked a furious backlash. Twitter users didn't let the opportunity go, as they got to trolling Cruz yet again.

A World Health Organization (WHO), instructor teaches new health workers during a training session on October 3, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Is the WHO scared of China?

The WHO uses Greek alphabets to name Covid-19 variants, such as alpha, beta, and gamma. Under this convention, variants are named in alphabetical order, irrespective of whether they are Variants of Concern (VoC) or Variants of Interest (VoI). So technically, the next Covid-19 variant discovered should have been named Nu and then Xi. Instead, the WHO skipped those options and went straight to Omicron, which it has designated for the variant discovered in Southern Africa.

It's unclear why the WHO chose to skip Nu and Xi. Nu could have possibly been skipped because it sounds similar to 'new', which may cause a bit of confusion amongst the general public. As for Xi, The Telegraph's senior editor for global health security Paul Nuki had a report - "A WHO source confirmed the letters Nu and Xi of the Greek alphabet had been deliberately avoided. Nu had been skipped to avoid confusion with the word "new" and Xi had been skipped to "avoid stigmatising a region", they said. All pandemics inherently political!" Cruz retweeted that, and added, "If the WHO is this scared of the Chinese Communist Party, how can they be trusted to call them out the next time they're trying to cover up a catastrophic global pandemic?"



At the moment, the WHO hasn't commented on the skip, so this report remains speculation. But given the strong anti-Asian sentiment and racial attacks on Asian-Americans, it makes sense for the WHO to avoid naming a Covid-19 variant after the Chinese President. Currently, the GOP-led narrative has led many to attack Asians and blame them for "creating Covid", even if some of the victims aren't from China. 

'WHO should retract this awful fat-shaming'

Many users, unlike Cruz, saw the funny side of Nuki's tweet. One user joked, "They've avoided stigmatising, but they'll be Sigmatising at some point. <getting coat>." Another replied, "And for the next variant they’ll skip Pi coz that’ll upset all the mathematicians!" One person tweeted, "In a late move, Greece asks for a wider review of the overall naming regime, given the policy of avoiding stigmatising regions."




A few daring users also took a shot at China. "Xi Jinping is a region now?" one person asked. Another tweeted, "Xi should be named as master variant." Another commented, "Yeah, sounds like they’re “impartial” to me." One user joked, "Xi is certainly on the pudgy side but I don’t think he constitutes a “region”. The WHO should retract this awful fat-shaming."





Cruz wasn't the only conservative to call the WHO out for the shift in policy. Lou Dobbs and Stephen Miller were some of the others to slam the WHO, but by and large, most social media users saw the funny side of the story.