The World Health Organization (WHO) has explained why it skipped the Greek letters “nu” and “xi” in naming the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
“Two letters were skipped—Nu and Xi—because Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and Xi was not used because it is a common surname and [the] WHO best practices for naming new diseases … suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups,'” the United Nations agency told The Epoch Times in a statement on Nov. 27.
The WHO best practices for naming new diseases were developed in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. and the World Organisation for Animal Health in 2015.
Professor Jonathan Turley, a criminal attorney and professor at George Washington University, speculated that the WHO “is again avoiding any discomfort for the Chinese government” in skipping the “Xi” letter and naming it Omicron.
“The new variant was expected to be Nu but any additional variant would then be Xi, which happens to be the name of the Chinese leader,” he wrote on Twitter.
“It is not clear if there is another reason for the decision to skip over Nu and Xi, but W.H.O.’s history with the investigation into the origins of the pandemic has fueled speculation as to a political motive. It is a demonstration of the continuing credibility problems for the organization after its original inquiry. Even the new panel has been criticized for its imbalance and the background of its members.”
On Twitter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the WHO of being “scared of the Chinese Communist Party.” Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accused the WHO of being “more concerned about the feelings of the Chinese Communist Party than they are about public health.”
Besides Omicron, the WHO has designated five other “variants of concern” as well as two “variants of interest.”
The WHO earlier this year adopted letters of the Greek alphabet to have “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels” for variants of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
The Omicron strain, identified as B.1.1.529, was first detected in Botswana and South Africa within the past week. South African scientists say it has an unusual combination of mutations on the spike protein that may make the virus capable of evading immunity from prior infections or vaccination.
Early evidence, WHO said in a statement, suggests Omicron has a higher risk of reinfection compared to other variants such as Delta or the Alpha strain.
Meanwhile, a top South African doctor has told The Telegraph the new variant causes unusual but mild symptoms.
Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said the agency has named the new strain a variant of concern because it has “some concerning properties,” namely a large number of mutations, some of which “have some worrying characteristics.”
“Once a variant is classified as a variant of concern, it’s really important that we have good SARS-CoV-2 surveillance around the world, including better genomic sequencing, because we want to be able to detect this variant where it is circulating,” Van Kerkhove said.
“It’s also really important that studies are undertaken in the field to look at any clusters and also the studies that are needed in the lab, to look to see if there’s any changes in severity, any changes in our impact on diagnostics, therapeutics, or vaccines.”
The new CCP virus variant has sparked travel bans by several countries—including the United States, Canada, Brazil, the UK, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Russia, and Australia—a move South Africa’s health minister called “unjustified.”
The United States is restricting travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi, in efforts to curb the spread of Omicron.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Nov. 27 that the travel ban is intended to buy more time to assess the new variant and is “not any reason to panic.”
No cases of the new Omicron virus variant have been identified in the United States as of Nov. 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.