COVID-19: official name for disease caused by novel coronavirus

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks at a press conference after the WHO emergency committee's meeting on the novel coronavirus in China at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2020. (Xinhua/Liu Qu)
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday gave the official name for the illness caused by the latest novel coronavirus as COVID-19.

According to the WHO, “CO” stands for “corona,” “VI” for “virus” and “D” for “disease.” The number “19” represents the year of 2019 when the first cases were reported on Dec. 31 in Wuhan, China.

“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 when he announced the name in Geneva.

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” he said.

Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, the WHO advises against using place names such as Ebola and Zika, where the diseases were first identified. More general place names such as “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” are also avoided as they can stigmatize entire regions or ethnic groups.

The WHO also notes that using animal species in names can create confusion, such as in 2009 when H1N1 was popularly referred to as “swine flu,” which had a major impact on the pork industry, even though the disease was being spread by people rather than pigs.

The WHO had earlier named the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 as “2019-nCoV.” And China’s National Health Commission earlier this week named the pneumonia caused by the virus as “novel coronavirus pneumonia” or NCP. Enditem

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