GENEVA, Switzerland, February 12 ------ The UN health agency on Tuesday announced that “COVID-19” will be the official name of the deadly virus from China, saying the disease represented a “very grave threat” for the world but there was a “realistic chance” of stopping it. “We now have a name for the disease and it’s COVID-19,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva. Tedros said that “co” stands for “corona”, “vi” for “virus” and “d” for “disease”, while “19” was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on December 31. Tedros said the name had been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatization.
WHO had earlier given the virus the temporary name of “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease” and China’s National Health Commission this week said it was temporarily calling it “novel coronavirus pneumonia” or NCP. Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, WHO advises against using place names such as Ebola and Zika — where those diseases were first identified and which are now inevitably linked to them in the public mind. More general names such as “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” or “Spanish flu” are also now avoided as they can stigmatize entire regions or ethnic groups. WHO also notes that using animal species in the name can create confusion, such as in 2009 when H1N1 was popularly referred to as “swine flu”.
This had a major impact on the pork industry even though the disease was being spread by people rather than pigs. People’s names — usually the scientists who identified the disease — are also banned, as are “terms that incite undue fear” such as “unknown” or “fatal”, the WHO said.