China President Xi: A common surname
Photo: JU PENG / EPA
The new corona variant B.1.1.529 is "worrying", according to the classification of the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO definition, this classification is a signal that a variant is more contagious or leads to more severe disease courses.
The naming should also take this into account: Omicron - after the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet.
However, some observers quickly noticed that the WHO had skipped two letters when choosing a name: Ny and Xi. Was the jump because the organization didn't want to upset Chinese President Xi Jinping? Republican Senator Ted Cruz rumbled, “If WHO is so afraid of the Chinese Communist Party, how can you trust them to confront them the next time they try to cover up a catastrophic global pandemic ? "
In response to a request from SPIEGEL, the WHO announced that it had skipped the letter Ny because it could easily be confused with the English word "new".
Xi, on the other hand, was left out because it was a "common surname".
In doing so, they followed their own guidelines for naming new diseases.
These suggested insulting "cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups" should be avoided.
Two cases detected in Germany
The variant B.1.1.529 was initially detected in southern Africa.
It first spread very quickly in the South African province of Gauteng, which is also located in Johannesburg.
So far there has been talk of around a hundred sequencing of the variant.
In the meantime, the variant has also been proven in several European countries.
These include two cases in Germany.
The variant differs from others in its high number of mutations.
It carries a total of 32 mutations in the important spike protein alone, the part of the virus with which it attaches to and penetrates human host cells.
With eight mutations, the delta variant has significantly fewer changes.
In addition, B.1.1.529 also carries more than ten mutations in other parts of its genome.
It is still unclear whether the new variant is more contagious or even more dangerous for humans due to its mutations.
The sheer number of spike mutations does not necessarily say anything about the danger they pose.
But the experts' forecasts are bleak.
(You can read the latest facts about Omikron in Germany here.)