WHO accused of kowtowing to China after skipping Greek letter 'Xi' for 'Omicron' on new COVID-19 variant

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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States

Social media users have accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of bending to China’s will after it skipped the Greek alphabet letter “Xi” and named the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.

Driving the news: The WHO began using letters of the Greek alphabet to name COVID-19 variants in May. The agency used the letters in order until it announced Omicron as a Variant of Concern (VOC) on Nov. 26, skipping “Nu” and “Xi.”

  • The organization’s use of Greek letters is predicated on discouraging people from calling COVID-19 variants by their places of origin, which it finds “stigmatizing and discriminatory.” In the U.S., Former President Donald Trump has been blamed in part for the surge in anti-Asian attacks due to his use of terms such as “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung Flu.”

  • Omicron was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 9. The WHO’s announcement of its appearance on Friday took many by surprise as “Nu” — the 13th of 24 Greek letters — was supposed to be the next variant name.

  • In choosing the name Omicron, however, the WHO not only skipped “Nu,” but the 14th letter “Xi.” This led to speculation that the agency is “scared” of China, currently led by General Secretary President Xi Jinping.

  • “The scare of China is such in WHO that the new variant is named ‘Omicron’ after ‘Nu,’ skipping ‘Xi’ totally. And we can all guess why,” one Twitter user wrote. “And that’s when the origin of corona is from China itself. Hypocrisy unlimited!”

  • Another user wrote: “The WHO has given the nasty new variant the Greek letter ‘Omicron,’ presumably missing out the previous letter ‘Xi’ to avoid an unfortunate link with China’s President. Because to be associated with such a horrific, unstoppable blight on humanity would be very harsh on COVID-19.”

  • Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also added their weight to the accusations.













 

What the agency is saying: In emailed statement to to CNN, the WHO confirmed they intentionally skipped “Nu” and “Xi” as COVID-19 variant names but for different reasons than speculated. The organization made no mention of the Chinese president but echoed its warning against stigmatization.

  • “‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and ‘Xi’ was not used, because it is a common surname,” the agency said. “And WHO best practices for naming new diseases suggest ‘avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”

  • These best practices and others were outlined in a technical document published on the organization’s website in May 2015. At the time, the organization said it wanted to “minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people” when naming communicable diseases.

  • So far, the WHO has used 13 Greek letters. Aside from Omicron, variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta are all classified as VOCs, while Lambda and Mu are known as Variants of Interest (VOIs). Six other letters were assigned to former VOIs, according to AP News.


The WHO has advised countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing of Omicron cases.

Featured Image via Guilhem Vellut (CC BY 2.0)

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