TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — This cartoon surfaced late last month when the World Health Organization (WHO) skipped two Greek letters for the latest COVID variant, including Xi, which many suspected was left out to avoid offending Beijing's autocratic ruler.
The B.1.1.529 variant, which was first detected in the South African province of Gauteng, has 32 mutations in the spike protein, earning it the distinction of a new name. The next Greek letters in sequence were Nu and Xi, but the WHO skirted both in favor of Omicron on Nov. 26, leaving a scant nine letters left to name the inevitable new configurations of the virus.
The WHO has claimed Nu was rejected because it is similar to the English word "new," and Xi was jettisoned because it is a "common last name." However, the claim that Xi was skipped because it is a common family surname does not hold water, as Mu, the previous variant, is a far more common surname than Xi.
In fact, all the previous Greek letters before Omicron are documented surnames, defeating the WHO's entire premise of avoiding surnames with its variant names. Many pundits have suggested that Xi was actually skipped because it would draw derision from China's Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平), who the organization's Director-General Tedros Adhanom was quick to praise for his "transparency" at the start of the pandemic.
On Nov. 30, illustrator Germ Sir (細菌先生) uploaded an illustration onto his Facebook page in which he imagined an exchange between Tedros and his "big boss," Chairman Xi, represented by Winnie the Pooh. In the illustration, Tedros eagerly reports to Pooh that the WHO has already passed over the Greek letters Xi and Nu to designate the latest COVID variant.
He then informs the "tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff" that the new name is "Omicron." Tedros barely finishes pronouncing the name when Pooh quizzically responds by pronouncing it "Wo mie gong?" (我滅共).
Word for word, the pronunciation of the Greek letter in Mandarin sounds like "I exterminate CCP," thus crushing Tedros' plan to appease his pudgy overlord. Also in the Facebook post, Germ Sir sarcastically quipped, "We may have misunderstood Tedros," hinting that he actually is a closet dragon slayer.
Germ Sir illustration translated by Taiwan News.