Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021

There are three of us planning to go to Europe in December. Last night we got an email from our travel agent starting “Please read **URGENT**” and that is never good.

Not because of the surge in Covid-19 cases in the Netherlands and Germany, which we’ve known about for over a week, but because of a new variant called Omicron.

Greek Alphabet

Lots of news articles are focusing on the name “Omicron” because (1) Some people noticed that WHO skipped two letters in the Greek alphabet and (2) its name is one of the few things we know about this new guy.

Omicron has already joined the exclusive club of Variants of Concern, which includes Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. In between Delta and Omicron there were a few other Variants of Interest, called Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, and Kappa, ending with Lambda (found in Peru) and Mu (found in Columbia). But these were not interesting enough to be of Concern.

For the first time. WHO skipped two letters. Omicron was called Nu briefly, but that sounded like the English word New and you might find podcasters trying to discuss the “new nu variant,” which won’t do at all. Besides, when we get a Pi, they will be talking about how the Nu variant is giving way to the New variant and we’ll all be confused. So they looked at Xi, but not for long, because he is currently a head of state, and then they came to Omicron, which seems to be acceptable so far.

Okay with me, but if we’re going to be picky, we’ll use up letters fast. We are now on number 15 with 9 more letters to go, unless they skip some of those too. Not every variant deserves a Greek letter, of course, or we would have run out long ago. They all have scientific names, but those all sound alike after a while, even to scientists. In an August interview with The Telegraph, Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO suggested that we consider names of constellations next.

The International Astronomical Union recognizes 88 official constellations. Doesn’t Hercules Variant sound scary? An Age of Aquarius sounds good, but they’ll have to skip Cancer. And one day we may actually have an Andromeda Strain. See the article, “How Many Constellations Are There?” (link below) for a complete list.

1969 Novel and 1971 Movie

We have to take Omicron seriously because it is a fast spreader, contagious enough to make headway against the Delta variant, and because it might be more resistant to our current vaccines because of the number of mutations on the spike protein. In a rapid response, many countries are implementing travel restrictions for travel from South Africa and neighboring countries. However, the variant is found in many other countries already. Just because South Africa found it first doesn’t mean it started there. Israel has shut its borders to all foreigners.

Research is underway to determine more about its spread, resistance, and virulence. So far it has not linked to severe disease. In fact, some investigators suggest it causes milder disease than Delta.

Three of us planned to go on a Christmas Market cruise down the Rhine this December. Last February, with the vaccines getting started, this seemed safe enough. Now river cruises on the Danube have been cancelled because of the Covid surge and lockdowns in Austria, before we knew about Omicron. Christmas markets have been closed in Bavaria and Saxony, but so far the markets on the Rhine are open.

I’m not surprised that we heard from our travel advisor yesterday. He needs to know whether we want to cancel our Rhine Christmas Market cruise because our pre-cruise stop, Amsterdam, scheduled for Dec. 12-14, has shut down restaurants, etc. from 5 PM to 5 AM.

The cruise company website says they are “monitoring the Christmas Markets we visit.” If they decide to cancel, the trip is off. But if the ship sails, a week on the Rhine still sounds good to me.

More to come next week.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Why is the new coronavirus variant called omicron?” The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 27, 2021. https://www.jpost.com/health-and-wellness/coronavirus/why-is-the-new-coronavirus-variant-called-omicron-687165

“Variants could be named after star constellations when Greek alphabet runs out, says WHO Covid chief,” The Telegraph, Aug. 7, 2021. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/variants-could-named-star-constellations-greek-alphabet-runs/

“S.African doctor says patients with Omicron variant have “very mild” symptoms,” Reuters, Nov. 28, 2021. https://news.yahoo.com/african-doctor-says-patients-omicron-161457333.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall

“Health officials warn against jumping to conclusions on omicron,” The Hill, Nov. 28, 2021. https://news.yahoo.com/health-officials-warn-against-jumping-174208471.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall

Additional Sources:

“How Many Constellations Are There?,” https://www.constellation-guide.com/what-is-a-constellation/how-many-constellations-are-there/

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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