The World Health Organization appears to have skipped two letters in the Greek alphabet in naming a new COVID-19 variant because the UN agency is once again being deferential to China, critics charge.
Top WHO officials met on Friday to discuss the emergence of the new variant which appears to have originated in South Africa after it was identified by the country’s health minister, Joe Phaahla. Researchers say it appears to also be the most heavily mutated thus far in the pandemic.
But as part of the meeting, WHO officials also sought to name the new variant — but in doing so have caused a new controversy, as some believe the agency skipped the letters because it sought to protect China.
According to reports, the next two letters in the Greek alphabet after ‘Delta,’ which, until now, was the latest variant, were “Nu” and “Xi,” but instead, WHO officials chose the next letter, “Omicron.”
Speculation on social media is that Nu was skipped to avoid confusion that there may be a ‘new’ variant of COVID, but Xi was passed over because it is identical to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first name, at least visually.
In the past, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, has been accused of downplaying the origin of COVID-19 to take criticism away from China while also praising Beijing’s early response as the virus spread even after it became apparent China had mishandled the outbreak.
Critics pounced on the global health agency for its choice of variant names.
“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?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) riffed.
If the WHO is this scared of the Chinese Communist Party, how can they be trusted to call them out the next time they're trying to cover up a catastrophic global pandemic? https://t.co/wURdLcdqw2
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) November 26, 2021
“The experts™ skipping Xi variant name in the Greek alphabet so not to offend the country that started this sums this entire thing up perfectly. It can’t be topped,” conservative commentator Stephen L. Miller wrote.
The experts™ skipping Xi variant name in the Greek alphabet so not to offend the country that started this sums this entire thing up perfectly. It can't be topped.
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) November 27, 2021
Donald Trump Jr. ‘quoted’ Miller’s tweet and added: “As far as I’m concerned the original will always be the Xi variant.”
As far as I’m concerned the original will always be the Xi variant. https://t.co/tm8EWcmq3A
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 27, 2021
Other users joked after some media outlets jumped the gun and began calling the South African variant “Nu” before WHO chose Omicron.
“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.”
On the one hand… 💯 agree… but…
As a letter enthusiast, I feel sad for Nu and Xi not getting their moments. I get it, but it’s still a bummer.
— ⚫️nobody important (@malakhstudios) November 26, 2021
“No sorry we’re not calling the new COVID strain ‘nu variant’, are we?” wrote another user. “I refuse to have my Christmas cancelled by something that shares and [sic] epithet with a playlist featuring Limp Bizkit.”
no sorry we're not calling the new COVID strain "nu variant", are we? I refuse to have my Christmas cancelled by something that shares an epithet with a playlist featuring Limp Bizkit
— Jack Bernhardt (@jackbern23) November 26, 2021
Later, Miller wrote: “We can’t even take on generational and empirical evil anymore because the experts and elites in charge are afraid of an old lady getting punched in the Bronx. That’s where we’re at.”
We can’t even take on generational and empirical evil anymore because the experts and elites in charge are afraid of an old lady getting punched in the Bronx. That’s where we’re at.
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) November 27, 2021
The global health agency has been naming new COVID-19 variants using Greet letters such as Alpha, Beta, and Delta, noting on its website that it would “be easier and more practical to be discussed by non-scientific audiences.”
Omicron is the fifth variant of concern identified by the WHO that is linked to COVID-19. Lambda, Epsilon and Mu variants have also generated some interest and headlines.
However, Nu and Xi were not chosen for a couple of reasons, a WHO spokesperson told the New York Post.
“[For] Nu the reasoning was people would get confused thinking it was the new variant, rather than a name,” Dr. Margaret Harris told the paper. “And XI because it’s a common surname and we have agreed [to] naming rules that avoid using place names, people’s names, animal, etc. to avoid stigma.”
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