How did the Kovit-19 Omigron variant get its name?

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When the World Health Organization began naming emerging variants of the corona virus, officials turned to the Greek alphabet to make evolution easier for the public to understand: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and more.

Now the alphabet has created a political headache. When it came time to name a dangerous new variant that appeared in South Africa, the next letter in alphabetical order was nu, which officials thought would be too easily confused with “new”.

The letter behind it is even more complex: Xi, in its transliteration, though not in its pronunciation, belongs to Chinese President Xi Jinping. So they skipped both and named the new variant Omigron.

“‘Nu’ is very easily confused with ‘new’ and ‘Xi’ is not used because it is a common last name,” a spokesman Tariq Jazarevic said in an email on Saturday about the two-letter omission.

The organization’s policy is to “avoid harming any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic group.”

The organization did not initially explain why a small variant, first documented in Colombia, jumped from Mu to Omicron. This led to speculation about the reasons for the boycott. For some, it raised the criticism that the organization was too respectful in its dealings with the Chinese government.

“If the WHO is afraid to see the Chinese Communist Party, how can they trust what they will be called next time they try to cover up a devastating global epidemic?” Senator Ted Cruz of the Republican Party of Texas wrote on Twitter.

There is no evidence in the Chinese naming the new variant, scientifically known as SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529. Some variants have proven to be less contagious, but may be the newest version after Omicron Delta.

Throughout the epidemic, the WHO sought to avoid the common practice of referring to health threats with geographical terms: Spanish flu, West Nile virus, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, Zika and Ebola.

This reflected concerns among scientists about the risk of stigmatizing places or people, but it was also seen as respectful to China in the early months of the epidemic, which played an influential role in global health issues.

Chinese officials have reacted angrily to attempts to link the outbreak to the central city of Wuhan, which first spread in the fall of 2019. The then President Donald J. China continued to be harshly critical of the United States, including Trump and his aides. However, it sometimes uses sophomore and racist slander.

“The corona virus novel affects everyone and must be dealt with in a joint effort rather than inciting fear in a racist way,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zheng Shuang said at the time.

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