Tedros said the agency wanted to avoid stigmatizing a country or particular group, so it chose a name that did not refer to a geographical location, animals, an individual or a group of people.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said the acronym allows for flexibility for naming new coronaviruses that may emerge in the future.
“Coronavirus is a group of viruses that are quite common,” Swaminathan said. “There are many known strains of coronavirus. It is possible that there will be another strain of coronavirus. Then that could also be named by the year it appeared.”
“It’s important to have a name that everybody uses — both for scientific purposes to compare … and also to avoid a number of different stigmatizing or other forms of confusing names,” she added.
The virus had been tentatively referred to as 2019-nCoV. Some people on social media have referred to the respiratory illness as the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus.”
Once names are established in common usage, especially through the internet and social media, they are difficult to change, WHO officials have said. For example, the “swine flu” and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain foods, communities or economic sectors, they said.
Since emerging in Wuhan in central China over a month ago, the new virus has spread from about 300 people as of Jan. 21 to more than 43,000 — with the number of new cases growing by the thousands every day.
The coronavirus pneumonia produces mild cold symptoms in about 80% of patients, Dr. Sylvie Briand, head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, told reporters Monday. About 15% of the people who contract the virus have ended up with pneumonia with 3% to 5% of all patients needing intensive care, she said.
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