The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that it was naming a new COVID-19 variant “Omicron,” skipping over the Greek letter “Xi,” the same name of current Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mediaite reported.
The WHO made the declaration regarding COVID variant B.1.1.529 out of Johannesburg, South Africa, also passing over the Greek letter “Nu.”
Other variant names followed the Greek alphabet in order, including the Alpha variant out of the United Kingdom; the Beta variant out of South Africa; the Gamma variant out of Brazil; and the Delta variant out of India.
The Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, and Mu variants followed the order as well.
Officials with the organization didn’t provide an explanation for why “Xi” and “Nu” were passed over, according to Mediaite.
The organization is known for being lenient to China, where the virus originated, according to Foreign Policy.
“I thought the greatest success of the Chinese party-state was in getting the WHO to focus on the positive sides of China’s responses and ignore the negative sides of the responses,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the SOAS University of London. “With the WHO presenting China’s responses in a positive light, the Chinese government is able to make its propaganda campaign to ignore its earlier mistakes appear credible and to ignore the human, societal, and economic costs of its responses.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general at the WHO, met with Xi towards the beginning of the outbreak, where he praised China for its “openness to sharing information” about COVID-19, per Mediaite.
American intelligence later revealed that China became aware of the virus in November 2019, months before cooperating with health officials.
The Biden administration announced Friday it would ban travel to the U.S. from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi in response to the Omicron variant.
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