The World Health Organization (WHO) said Saturday it chose not to name the newly-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 the “Xi” variant as it might “cause offence.”
According to the Greek alphabet used by the WHO to classify COVID-19 variants, the next two variants to be named by the organization would have been “Nu” and “Xi.” However, due to the body’s best practices for naming new diseases, developed in 2015, the organization chose to skip over both names and use the name Omicron variant instead.
Nu was skipped to avoid confusion over people calling it the “new” variant, the organization said. Xi was skipped because it is a “common surname,” and using common surnames as disease names is avoided so as not to cause “offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
It is not yet fully known 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 have imposed travel restrictions with some completely shutting down travel from southern Africa, the apparent epicenter of the new strain.