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“I have just named BA.2.75 variant after a galaxy,” wrote Xabier Ostale, who often uses his Twitter account to share coronavirus news.

He dubbed the latest coronavirus subvariant that’s drawing attention from scientists “Centaurus.”

The name appears to be sticking.

Since his July 1 tweet, mentions of Centaurus referring to the omicron subvariant, which has been reported in about 10 countries, abounded not just on Twitter — but in headlines around the world. Google searches for the term shot up.

“Korea detects first case of Centaurus Covid subvariant,” one South Korean daily announced Thursday.

The nickname, a reference to a faraway galaxy that is also the name of the father of centaurs in Greek mythology, has reignited a debate about how best to name coronavirus variants and how it affects public perception.

A few complained the names shouldn’t be left up to what one user called “randos on Twitter.”

Ostale could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday. But a chorus of voices said the catchy name could help raise awareness about this phase of the pandemic as variants circulate and fatigue grows. The World Health Organization has sought to remind people that the pandemic is “nowhere near over,” with the latest omicron offshoots driving up infections around the world.

WHO warns covid ‘nowhere near over’ as variants spike in U.S., Europe

Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist and researcher at Switzerland’s University of Bern, said that in the absence of an “easy, mutual language” about a variant, people would probably look for one.

As variants with perhaps less memorable names, BA.4 and BA.5, fuel infections in the United States and Europe, the WHO has neither assigned BA.2.75 a name — nor taken to calling it Centaurus. The agency says it is tracking BA.2.75 but has not deemed it a “variant of concern” and said it remains early to determine its ability to evade immunity or its severity.

Its designation as an omicron subvariant “under monitoring” means the health body is watching for “sufficient evidence” that its characteristics differ substantially from variants before it — in which case it could get an official “WHO label.”

The Netherlands said Wednesday that it had joined nearly 10 countries that have detected cases of BA.2.75, including Canada, Britain and Australia. As scientists study its rise in India, where it was first identified in May, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control classified BA.2.75 as a “variant under monitoring,” while noting there was not yet enough data on it.

The World Health Organization has named variants of interest or concern using letters of the Greek alphabet “to assist with public discussions.” The decision stemmed last year from meetings with scientists and WHO officials to come up with easy-to-pronounce names and stop the “stigmatizing labels” from when many people described variants by the countries where they were identified.

They considered everything from bird species to Greek gods. Problems that popped up included trademarks and the possibility they could eventually run out of Greek letters.

“With Centaurus, as far as naming goes, it’s fine in that it’s not geographical, it’s not harmful, it’s not misleading. Nobody’s getting it mixed up with a constellation,” said Hodcroft, who was part of the group that brainstormed nomenclature. “But it may not be so lucky next time.”

A Greek alphabet crash course, one covid variant at a time

She described the Greek letter system as “a success” and said there was a plan to use constellation names afterward, but she added it may have been easier before when variants were “all much more distinct.”

“We’ve moved into a new phase of the pandemic now with these variants. … They’re all kind of part of the same family,” Hodcroft said. It may be time to revisit the naming system for subvariants, she added.

“If nobody was writing or talking about BA.2.75, Centaurus probably wouldn’t have gotten much traction,” she said.

Since his label gained attention, Ostale seems to agree. “People will understand much better nicknames than letters and numbers,” he wrote this week in a tweet.



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