The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the new name of coronavirus at Geneva on Tuesday, February 12.
The coronavirus disease causing a deadly outbreak in China has been named COVID-19.
The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has named the virus itself SARS-CoV-2 after a similar but more deadly bug discovered in China in 2002.
“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” Tedros told reporters. It also gives a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreak.
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.