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The illness caused by the new coronavirus gets a new name: COVID-19

The illness caused by the new coronavirus gets a new name: COVID-19


The name couldn’t reference an animal, a place, or a group of people

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Doctors record health information of people at a coronavirus checkpoint in Wenzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, on Feb. 8, 2020.
Xinhua/Weng Xinyang via Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that the disease caused by the new coronavirus will be referred to as COVID-19. Until this point, the illness was known as 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease. Experts refer to the virus that causes the disease as 2019-nCoV, which stands for novel coronavirus 2019.

There are around 43,000 cases of the illness around the world, and it has killed over 1,000 people so far.

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks,” said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference today.

The name of the disease is linked with the virus that causes it: it starts with “co” and “vi” for “coronavirus.” The “d” stands for disease, while “19” indicates the year that it was first discovered. What the name doesn’t have is an association with Wuhan or China.

The outbreak started in Wuhan, China, and, initially, people colloquially referred to the unknown illness as Wuhan pneumonia or Wuhan flu. Naming conventions through the WHO say that the formal name given to an illness cannot refer to a geographic location. It also can’t refer to an animal or group of people, has to be related to the disease, and must be easy to say.