UPDATE: The original article stated the name COVID-19 referred to the virus, when it actually refers to the disease caused by the virus. The virus has been named SARS-CoV-2. This has now been updated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday in Geneva that the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus first discovered in China last December will officially be known as COVID-19. This stands for COronaVIrus Disease and then the year (2019) it emerged.
In scientific and medical literature, the virus responsible for COVID-19 has been referred to temporarily as 2019nCoV (certainly not a catchy name). In the popular press, it has been referred to simply as coronavirus, which can be misleading as coronaviruses are a viral subfamily that includes many different viruses, from the common cold to deadly pathogens like SARS and MERS.
“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,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference.
“Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease.”
The Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, the global authority on the designation and naming of viruses, released a paper at the same time naming the virus formerly known as 2019-nCoV Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
The announcement came during the WHO daily media briefing on the current COVID-19 epidemic. The organization announced that at 6am CET on February 11, there were 42,708 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China and 393 cases in 24 other countries around the world. So far, more than 1,100 people have died of the disease.
A vaccine is currently being tested in mice, but it will take months, if not longer, for its safety and efficacy in humans to be proven. The WHO is currently hosting a meeting of more than 400 scientists from around the world, both in person and virtually, where they hope to expand on current plans to tackle the epidemic.
The conference will produce a roadmap of public health priorities to prevent further infections as well as provide supplies to diagnose and treat patients.