Coronavirus outbreak: Viral disease officially named Covid-19, but what does it mean and why was it chosen?
'We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,' says WHO chief
The new coronavirus disease will be called Covid-19, which stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday.
"We now have a name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus: Covid-19. Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. #COVID19", Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said in a tweet.
The new virus, along with other SARS and MERS viruses, belongs to a group called coronavirus. Though it was earlier called 2019nCoV, the virus was mostly referred to as the new coronavirus.
Now, the new coronavirus also has a new name, bearing semblance to its closely related coronavirus counterpart, SARS. It is dubbed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) now by the Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, which is responsible for the official classification of viruses.
“The name of this new virus contains ‘SARS Coronavirus’ because it’s closely related. They belong to the same species," Alexander Gorbalenya, an emeritus virologist at the Leiden University Medical Center and longtime member of the Coronavirus Study Group, told Wired.
A politically correct move
The new coronavirus has been referred to by a lot of names: Wuhan coronavirus, Wuhan flu, Chinese coronavirus and the like. Such names, according to the WHO, could unwittingly pin the blame on a region.
For instance, in 2009, the WHO replaced the “swine flu” with Influenza A (H1N1), following a drop in the pork market. Then again in 2012, a coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East earned the moniker: Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Since then, the WHO has been wary of giving out names with links to places, people or animals. In 2015, the health agency came up with a policy statement that provided details on how to name a new disease.
“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference Tuesday. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”
The name is easy to pronounce, with just syllables, Wendy Parmet, a law professor at Northeastern University and public health expert, told Time. “You want something that’s easy and that people are going to keep using otherwise they’re going to substitute it with more problematic slang,” she added.