Well-Being Prevention & Cures

WHO: Coronavirus disease officially named COVID-19

getty World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Story at a glance

  • WHO officials said they had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, animal or individual group of people that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.
  • WHO reports there were 42,708 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,017 deaths in China.
  • The agency reports 393 cases in 24 countries with one death outside China.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that the new coronavirus disease that was first identified in Wuhan, China, has officially been named “COVID-19.” 

“COVI” comes from coronavirus, the “D” stands for disease and the 19 represents 2019, the year the virus was first identified, in December. 

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, announced Tuesday at a news conference in Geneva. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreak.” 

WHO officials said the agency wanted to avoid a name that refers to geographical location, animals or groups of people to avoid stigmatizing a country or individual group of people. The coronavirus was tentatively referred to as 2019-nCoV, with some calling it the “Wuhan virus,” the Chinese city where the illness is believed to have originated. 

The Washington Post reports the “novel coronavirus” will be designated “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or “SARS-CoV-2.” The disease it actually causes is “COVID-19.”

WHO reported Tuesday that there were 42,708 confirmed cases in China, and 1,017 people have lost their lives. Meanwhile, there are 393 cases in 24 other countries, with one death outside China. 

The agency is hosting a meeting of more than 400 scientists from around the world, in person and virtually, to hold discussions on how to control the outbreak. 

“The main outcome is an agreed roadmap on what questions we need to ask, and how we will go about answering those questions,” Tedros said.