Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, is slowly starting to spread its wings in countries across the globe. First detected in South Africa, the variant was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24. And a couple of days later, it was given the tag of a ‘variant of concern’.

But how was the new contagious variant – B.1.1.529 – named?

The new COVID variant was named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

The world health body, earlier in May, had announced that the naming system makes communication about variants easier. It also makes it less confusing for the public.

For example, the Delta variant. It emerged in India and is scientifically named B.1.617.2. To make things easier it was named after the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.

Currently, there are seven “variants of interest” or “variants of concern”. Each one of them has a Greek letter, according to a WHO tracking page.

For B.1.1.529, the WHO skipped two letters before settling down with Omicron. The two skipped letters are “nu” and “xi”.

Why were the letters skipped?

Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson, said that while ‘nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new’, ‘xi’ was not used because it is a common last name.

He added that the world health body’s best practices for naming diseases suggest avoiding “causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

Some of the better-known variants, such as delta, rose to a variant of concern. Others in that category were named alpha, beta and gamma. Others that emerged, which were variants of interest, were named lambda and mu.

Variants are compartmentalised into three categories:

– Variants of interest

– Variants of concern

– Variants of high consequence

With the countries across the globe tightening their international arrival and departure along with COVID norms, it is safe to assume that the lockdown is here to stay a little while longer.