New Delhi: Omicron is the name given to the new variant of COVID-19 - B.1.1.529. This new variant is taking the world by fear again, which just a few months back had started to get back to normalcy after battling two intense waves of coronavirus. Many people must be thinking how do these COVID-19 variants get their name and who gives them an identity? To know more, read further.
In naming the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, the World Health Organization (WHO) skipped the letter 'Xi' and 'Nu' the 13th and 14th letters in Greek alphabet. People on social media are questioning the health organisation over skipping Xi and naming the variant Omicron.
Security expert and commentator, Brahma Chellaney, in a tweet said the WHO had initially changed the name of "Wuhan Virus" "Covid" clarifying that it could "stigmatize" China and now in naming the new variant, WHO skipped "Nu" and "Xi," to avoid "offending a region” (Xi-led China).
The first case of the latest coronavirus variant, Omicron, was detected in South Africa. It was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24, 2021. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.
The WHO has said that this variant (Omicron) has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. "Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs (variant of concerns)," the global body said.
This new COVID-19 variant has been named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
The WHO has promoted the naming system and is accessible, as the scientific names are often difficult to remember, recall, say or pronounce and also may be prone to misreporting.
Who gives names to the viruses and their variants?
WHO developed the best practices for naming new human infectious diseases in close collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and in consultation with experts leading the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
How are COVID-19 variants named?
Recalling, the variant that emerged in India, B.1.617.2 was named after the fourth letter of Greek alphabet - Delta.
The other known variants that are also a variant of concern (VOC) were Alpha, Beta, Gamma.
There are currently seven "variants of concern" or "variants of concern" and each of them have a Greek letter.
The two other variants after Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta are Lambda and Mu.
Two Greek letters - Nu and Xi - were skipped by the WHO. A few other variants with Greek letters do not reach the classification levels.
The letters "Nu" and "Xi" were skipped as "Xi" happens to be a popular surname in China and is also the surname of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Meanwhile, "NU" is also confused with the English word "new", Tarik Jasarevis, a spokesperson of WHO, said.
He also said that WHO's best practices for naming diseases suggest avoiding “causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
Is there a new way or technology to test the new COVID-19 variant?
As per the WHO, the current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect Omicron.
How should I prevent myself from getting infected by the new COVID-19 variant?
Individuals should not be careless and reluctant. They should continue to ensure that they are adhering to take preventive measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19. Proven public health and social measures including wearing a well-fitting face mask (properly covering nose and mouth), hand hygiene (washing with soap and regularly sanitizing), physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor areas, avoiding crowded places and getting vaccinated against COVID-19.