A tweet claims WHO skipped a letter of the Greek alphabet when designating new COVID-19 variants to avoid using "xi".

News of new Nu variant, but WHO is jumping the alphabet to call it Omicron, so they can avoid Xi.

Is there any information why it was skipped?

Can it be verified that the letter "Xi" was skipped for political reasons, to avoid the connection to the Chinese president Xi Jinping?

  • 11
    They skipped two - I am unclear whether nu variant was deemed too close to mu variant or to new variant
    – Henry
    Nov 27, 2021 at 2:05
  • 5
    Last I heard there was delta, 4th position in the Greek alphabet. There are now 13 variants?
    – user11643
    Nov 27, 2021 at 17:22
  • 17
    @fredsbend It's the fifth to be a variant of concern but not the fifth to be assigned a Greek letter: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variants_of_SARS-CoV-2
    – richardb
    Nov 27, 2021 at 17:45
  • 14
    @fredsbend There are several COVID-19 variants you haven’t heard of. In fact, Nu and Xi are the first skipped letters.
    – iBug
    Nov 27, 2021 at 17:48
  • 1
    @iBug that link is blocked to EU. "This site is currently unavailable to visitors from the European Economic Area while we work to ensure your data is protected in accordance with applicable EU laws". Luckily other links like the wikipedia one work
    – bradbury9
    Nov 29, 2021 at 9:09

3 Answers 3


Yes, according to a reporter for the Telegraph:

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.

Paul Nuki

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tim
    Nov 28, 2021 at 20:09

The New York Times names a WHO spokesman the paper quotes:

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’” Tarik Jasarevic, a W.H.O. spokesman, said on Saturday. “And ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name.”

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

My guess is that they would equally have skipped "Putin" or "Obama" if such letters existed.


Yes (to avoid confusion and offence), as confirmed in a statement by the WHO to The Associated Press:

In a statement provided to the AP, the WHO said it skipped nu for clarity and xi to avoid causing offense generally.

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name,” the WHO said, adding that the agency’s “best practices for naming disease suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”

  • 2
    How is this substantially different from the answer given by Peter - Reinstate Monica? Nov 29, 2021 at 16:10
  • 16
    @computercarguy : it has a reference to a WHO press release, not a second-hand NY Times citation.
    – Aganju
    Nov 29, 2021 at 17:09
  • 4
    @computercarguy the source in the answer isn't paywalled -> better answer IMO
    – Eugene
    Nov 29, 2021 at 17:12

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