WHO says it skipped ‘Xi’ for new Covid-19 variant as it is a 'common last name'

According to guidelines.

Sulaiman Daud | November 29, 2021, 01:56 PM

The new variant of Covid-19 that is causing much alarm has been given an official name, Omicron, by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It has also been designated a variant of concern, and has been detected in several countries and regions, including South Africa, Israel, Botswana, Hong Kong, the UK, Belgium and Canada.

In his speech at the PAP convention on Nov. 28, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the government is closely monitoring the variant. Singapore has already made some moves to try and contain the spread, including imposing travel restrictions and deferring some VTLs.

However, some observers were curious about the choice of name.

The latest variant before Omicron was the Mu variant, announced by the WHO on Aug. 31 as a variant of interest ( a step down from a variant of concern).

So when a new variant emerged, many expected it to be named Nu, which is the next letter in the Greek alphabet.

Pic from Reddit.

Instead, the WHO skipped over both Nu and Xi, and settled on Omicron instead.

Why Omicron?

In a statement to the Associated Press on Nov. 28, the WHO gave its official reasons for skipping two letters and settling on the one that sounds like a Transformers character.

"Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name," it said.

The WHO added that the agency’s "best practices for naming disease suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups".

There are concerns, including in the U.S., that phrases such as "Chinese virus" would lead to increased discrimination and targeted harassment.

South China Morning Post reported on speculation, including from U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, that "Xi" was skipped out of concern that Chinese president Xi Jinping and his party would take offence.

Data from the Chinese government in February had listed Xi's surname as the 296th most common family name in China.

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Top image from Reddit