The WHO made an unexpected choice for an unexpected variant.
Researchers just discovered a highly mutated variant of the coronavirus and it's already gotten a name: Omicron.
The World Health Organization added the variant, B 1.1.529, to its variant of concern list on Friday, less than a month after it was first detected in South Africa and Botswana — and two days after it was classified under the labelling system used by the CDC.
"This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning," the WHO said in a statement. It added that the variant seems to have a "growth advantage" and that it may pose an "increased risk of reinfection."
Some had expected the WHO to call the variant "Nu" because that's the next letter in the Greek alphabet and would follow the organization's naming scheme. But officials skipped right over Nu and the next letter, Xi, to Omicron.
Many immediately compared the Omicron name to the villainous Decepticons from the Transformers franchise on Twitter.
"Great, the new variant is a Decepticon," one Twitter user wrote.
Wait, it's Omicron now? Sounds like a Decepticon.— Schooley (@Schooley) 1637951132
"I'm not vibing with it," another tweeted.
Optimus Prime on his way to fight the newest Decepticon, Omicron...pic.twitter.com/LsROV5xMtI— Jermaine (@Jermaine) 1637953075
The WHO started using Greek letters for naming variants earlier this year and is already more than halfway through the alphabet.
Studies are underway to find out more about Omicron, but early results show that it has a "large number of mutations" with some "worrying characteristics," according to the WHO's Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution met today to review what is known about the #COVID19 variant B.1.1.529.\nThey advised WHO that it should be designated a Variant of Concern.\nWHO has named it Omicron, in line with naming protocols https://bit.ly/3r8YrEd\u00a0pic.twitter.com/Gev1zIt1Ek— World Health Organization (WHO) (@World Health Organization (WHO)) 1637950290
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that Omicron might be more transmissible than Delta, which is dominant in several countries right now.
"It's a suspicious variant," Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said, according to the Associated Press. "We don't know if it's a very dangerous variant."
"Variant of concern" is the most severe label on the WHO's list, and there are only a few other variants under that category, including Delta.
The other variants weren't added to the list until at least a few months after they were discovered, but for Omicron, it was a matter of days.
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