Omicron, how come you skipped the queue? Naming the new covid strain

Susanna Freymark

Omicron. A few days ago, I’d never heard of the word. Omicron. Our latest covid strain.
Apart from Alpha, Beta, Omega, Pi — I hadn’t paid much attention to the Greek alphabet.
I learnt about Roman numerals at school, but maybe I was wagging school the day the Greek alphabet was taught.
I understand why covid isn’t called the Chinese virus, the Indian virus or now, the South African virus. We wouldn’t like it if the world was talking about the Australian virus. For a start, it’s too long and would have to be shortened to the Aussie virus.
The Greek alphabet is something scientists and mathematicians have been using forever to name their findings.
When Omicron was announced, I couldn’t stop thinking that the scientists skipped a few Greek alphabet letters. Why would they do that?
Here is the Greek Alphabet.
Surely the next virus should have been Epsilon. Sounds more like a laxative than a deadly virus, but who are we to argue with an alphabet written in the early eighth century BC. That’s a helluva long time ago.
I phoned a friend. He didn’t know and he knows everything. If I’m ever on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? he’ll be my designated phone-a-friend.
It’s almost midnight. My mind won’t be still.
I turn to Twitter for help.
I tweet:
Why is the latest covid strain called Omicron, not the next letter in the Greek alphabet – Epsilon? If anyone knows I’d be grateful so I can fall asleep.
Twitter being Twitter, @MartySilk at AAPNewswire fired back an answer.
We were actually up to ν or “nu” but you didn’t hear about the others because they weren’t variants of concern.
However, they still jumped Nu and ξ or “Xi” see below:
The next tweet referred to a World health Organisation statement on the matter.
A WHO source confirmed the letters Nu and XI of the Greek alphabet had been deliberately avoided. Nu had been skipped to avoid confusion with the word “new” and Xi had been skipped to “avoid stigmatising a region”, they said.
@PaulNuki, who posted the tweet ended with the comment
All pandemics (are) inherently political.
I wonder who advises the scientists about not naming the virus with letters deemed not suitable.
And what happens when we run out of letters.
There aren’t many left.
While I was still getting my head around the new name, the State Government put in immediate measure for all travellers arriving in NSW who had been to South Africa in the 14-day period before their arrival.
These arrivals had to go straight into hotel quarantine for 14 days. This was whether they were vaccinated or not.
Any other travellers who have been in any other overseas country in the same period had to go directly to their place of residence or accommodation and isolate for 72 hours.
All unvaccinated travellers from any overseas country had to go into hotel quarantine.
Omicron is bringing back recent blasts from the past. Things like quarantine and restrictions that we thought were over.
Omicron and the rest of its covid variant family are a determined lot. And no matter what many of us think about the virus, the effectiveness of the vaccine and debates around rights and freedoms will increase.
Worse, though Omicron will bring more fear. This covid merry go round is a ride that makes us feel queasy and we want to get off. But it won’t stop. And just when it slows down, it speeds up again and spins and spins.
Please be kind to each other on this ride.
Even if you’re tired. Because we’re all tired and that is when we need to be our strongest. And kindest.

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