The new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,000 people in recent weeks has been named COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday.
While this may seem like a strange thing to trumpet at this late stage in the outbreak, there is a very good reason for it — avoiding potential stigma.
The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a news conference that the name was chosen because it “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.”
The novel coronavirus virus has also been known as 2019-nCoV.
“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” Ghebreyesus said.
“It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”
The COVID-19 outbreak is the first that has tested new WHO guidelines on naming such viruses.
Previous outbreaks such as MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and swine flu led to the stigmatizing of geographical areas and certain animals.
In 2009, Egyptian officials ordered the culling of all pigs even though the animals didn’t spread the virus.
And MERS wasn’t exactly a great form of advertisement for countries in the Middle East even though it was reported across the globe.
What the WHO was trying to avoid by the naming of Covid-19 was the moniker of Chinese flu or Wuhan flu sticking, which can potentially lead to the stigmatisation and ostracisation of people from China or Wuhan – something that has been seen already regardless.