How Did the Name Omicron, a New Covid-19 Variant, Come About? On Friday, markets fell, hopes of controlling the coronavirus faded, and a new name entered the pandemic lexicon: Omicron.
The South African Covid-19 variety was called after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. The World Health Organization’s nomenclature scheme, established in May, makes public communication about variations easier and less confusing, according to the agency and experts.
The variety that evolved in India, for example, is not often recognised as B.1.617.2. Delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, is the name given to it. According to a W.H.O. monitoring page, there are currently seven “variants of interest” or “variants of concern,” each with its own Greek letter.
He went on to say that the agency’s best practises for illness naming include avoiding “provoking harm to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups.”
Some of the more well-known variations, such as Delta, grew to the status of Covid-19 Variant of concern. Other names in the group included Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Others that appeared as interesting varieties were dubbed Lambda and Mu. Other Greek letters were used for versions that did not fulfil those criteria, but Nu and Xi were the only ones that were left out.
The World Health Organization has pushed the naming system as straightforward and accessible, in contrast to the scientific names of the variations, which “may be difficult to speak and retain, and are prone to misreporting,” according to the W.H.O.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said she gave several interviews to media this year before the Greek naming system was established, and she struggled through complicated explanations regarding the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 varieties. They are currently known as Alpha, which first appeared in the United Kingdom, and Beta, which first appeared in South Africa.
“It makes it incredibly difficult to communicate about when you’re always using an alphabet soup of variation designations,” she explained, adding, “Eventually people wind up calling it the UK Covid-19 Variant or the South African version.”
That’s another major reason why the World Health Organization switched to the Greek name system, according to Dr. Rasmussen: the previous naming policy was unjust to the people who lived in the areas where the virus first appeared. The practise of characterising variations by where they were discovered was deemed “stigmatising and discriminatory” by the agency.
The habit of naming viruses after locations has also traditionally proved deceptive, according to Dr. Rasmussen. Ebola, for example, is named after a river that is located far from the location of the virus’s origin.
“From the start of the epidemic, I recall hearing people say, ‘We named it the Spanish flu.’ ‘How about we call it the Wuhan coronavirus?'” Dr. Rasmussen explained. “The Spanish flu did not originate in Spain.” We don’t know where it came from, but it’s extremely likely it came from the United States.”
The World Health Organization urged national governments and media outlets to implement the new labelling. They do not replace technical names, which are useful to scientists and will continue to be utilised in research.