The World Health Organization (WHO) said Saturday it did not name the newly-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 the “Xi” variant because it may “cause offence.”
According to the Greek alphabet being used by the WHO to classify COVID-19 variants, the next two variants to be named by the organization should be “Nu” and “Xi.” However, due to the body’s best practices for naming new diseases, developed in 2015, it skipped over both names and jumped to the Omicron variant.
ICYMI — WHO told me the decision not to name any variants after “Xi” was to avoid possible “stigma” to anyone who might be named that pic.twitter.com/AIEkzhG2WZ
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) November 27, 2021
Nu was skipped over to avoid confusing it with people calling it the “new” variant, the organization said in a press release. Xi was skipped because it is a “common surname,” the organization said. Using common surnames as disease names is avoided so as not to cause “offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.” (RELATED: Biden Announces New Travel Restrictions From South Africa, Seven Other Countries Due To New COVID Variant)
It is unclear exactly how the Omicron variant differs from previous strains of the virus, such as Delta, but the WHO has named it a “variant of concern” and several countries are beginning to shut down travel from southern Africa, the apparent epicenter of its spread.