Tech & Science dictionary

Omicron variant

or omicron variant or Omicron Variant [ om-i-kron OR oh-mi-kron vair-ee-uhnt ]

What does Omicron variant mean?

The Omicron variant is a variant of the COVID-19 virus. Omicron variant is the common name used to refer to what is technically known as the B.1.1.529 variant.

A variant of a virus is a new strain that has emerged due to a mutation (or mutations) in the virus’s genetic structure.

Use and awareness of the name Omicron variant became more common in news reports and public health communications in late 2021, including those about whether it could potentially be more contagious or more severe than previous variants, such as the Delta variant.

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Related words

Lambda variant, Delta variant, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, coronaversary, breakthrough case, twindemic

Where does Omicron variant come from?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa in November 2021 and detected in Canada soon after. In the name Omicron variant, the word omicron refers to the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. The name was used by the WHO as part of their system of using Greek letters to identify major COVID-19 variants. Other major variants were named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Lambda, and Mu.

The B.1.1.529 Variant was first labeled by the WHO as a “Variant Under Monitoring” (VUM). This category includes a large number of COVID-19 variants that may or may not have a higher risk of infection or severity. B.1.1.529 was named Omicron when it was reclassified as a “Variant of Concern” (VOC), a category reserved for variants associated with a higher risk to public health. The VOC classification includes the most severe variants of COVID-19 , including the highly contagious Delta variant.

The name Omicron variant came to be well-known in late 2021 due to wide coverage of the variant by international media and international response to its classification by the WHO. Many countries, including the United States, restricted or banned travel to or from South Africa and some neighboring countries in an attempt to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

Examples of Omicron variant

Much more to learn about the new Omicron variant. Right now it is best to maximize protection by getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, or boosted if you are eligible.
@cyrusshahpar46, November 26, 2021
The World Health Organization is warning that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a "very high" global risk because of the possibility that it spreads more easily and might resist vaccines and immunity in people who were infected with previous strains.
Scott Neuman, NPR, November 29, 2021

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Who uses Omicron variant?

The name Omicron variant is the most common way to refer to the COVID-19 variant that’s technically known as B.1.1.529. It’s widely used by health experts and in media reports.


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