On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named the new coronavirus: Covid-19. The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus 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 stigmatisation.
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 stigmatise 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”.
The outbreak, which was generally believed to have originated from Wuhan in central China, has killed more than 1,000 people worldwide, including one death in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.