Virus Update: WHO Formally Names It “COVID-19”

NBC News reports:

The new coronavirus that’s sickened more than 42,000 people in China now has an official name: COVID-19. It stands for the coronavirus disease that was discovered in 2019. The World Health Organization announced the name Tuesday, saying it was careful to find a name without stigma.

“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, or an individual or group of people,” WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a call with reporters. It’s also easy to pronounce, he added.

The New York Times reports:

The naming of viral illnesses is a complicated matter that involves both science and public relations. Past names, like the Spanish flu or Rift Valley fever, have been seen as contributing to the stigmatization of countries or regions. WHO issued new guidelines after the choice of the name for Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, was criticized.

As well as avoiding place names, those guidelines recommend not using people’s names (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), animal names (swine flu, equine encephalitis), cultural or occupational references (Legionnaires’ disease) or words that induce fear (unknown, death, fatal, epidemic).