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The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak finally has an official name

The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak finally has an official name
[Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images]

The World Health Organization has finally named the Wuhan coronavirus disease. The new name is . . . drumroll, please:

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COVID-19

co = coronavirus
vi = virus
d = disease
19 = 2019, the year it was first reported

As professionals who frequently write headlines, this name strikes us as decidedly unsharable. We would have preferred a nonthreatening word that rolls off the tongue, like COVIDY (“COVIDY REACHES U.S.”), or more of a sense of personification, like COVIDER (“COVIDER ATTACKS!”), or perhaps honesty, like URFKD-20 (“URFKD-20 CONTINUES”).

The World Health Organization disagrees. After taking nearly two months to name the disease, it landed on a pronounceable name that does not include a location, animal, or group of people, thereby avoiding stigma. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO chief, told grateful reporters.

Yesterday, the virus itself also got a name. In recognizing that it is “a sister” virus to SARS coronaviruses, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named it SARS-CoV-2. It, too, proposes a future naming scheme that will allow researchers to pinpoint strains without waiting months for official designations. (Specifically, strains can be named SARS-CoV-2/Isolate/Host/Date/Location).

That cheering sound you hear is journalists worldwide thrilled that they no longer need to write about “novel coronavirus,” which is a broad term like “new cats” or “new bacteria,” designating a variety of viruses that include the common cold.

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