WHO skips two letters in Greek alphabet in naming Omicron COVID variant

The emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has international health experts worried, financial markets roiled and the Internet confused over how the new name was chosen.

The World Health Organization appeared to skip two letters in the Greek alphabet when it announced Friday the name for the latest coronavirus variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

Nu and Xi were apparently the next letters in the Greek alphabet that have yet to be used for a variant, according to data on their website.

Although the WHO didn’t immediately explain the decision, Internet pundits and politicians speculated that the group skipped Nu to avoid confusion with the word “new” and passed on Xi because of its written similarity to the name Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) retweeted a Telegraph editor who cited a WHO source saying Xi was skipped to “avoid stigmatizing a region.”

“If the WHO is this scared of the Chinese Communist Party, how can they be trusted to call them out next time they’re trying to cover up a catastrophic global pandemic?” Cruz sniped in a criticism of the country’s role in the outbreak.

The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) are pictured in Geneva, Switzerland, March 22, 2016.
Sen. Ted Cruz blasted the World Health Organization for skipping over Xi to avoid associating the new COVID-19 variant to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer had a different take.

“Kudos to the WHO for skipping over the potentially confusing Nu and Xi names and going straight to Omicron,” he wrote.

Others joked about the apparent choice after many media outlets had prematurely started calling the Omicron variant “Nu.”

“As a letter enthusiast, I feel sad for Nu and Xi not getting their moments,” tweeted one user. “I get it, but it’s still a bummer.”

General view of the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, February 1, 2016. Independent experts to the World Health Organization began deliberating on Monday whether to declare a global emergency over the Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil.
The World Health Organization has already named several COVID-19 variants with Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.
REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“No sorry we’re not calling the new COVID strain ‘nu variant’, are we?,” another said. “I refuse to have my Christmas cancelled by something that shares and epithet with a playlist featuring Limp Bizkit.”

The WHO has been using Greek letters such as Alpha, Beta and Delta to describe the variants, saying it on its website it would “be easier and more practical to be discussed by non-scientific audiences.” Omicron is the fifth variant to be designated a variant of concern by WHO, which also gave the designation for Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

A spokesperson from WHO didn’t respond to a request for comment by The Post on Friday.