WHO official warns against calling it ‘Chinese virus,’ says ‘there is no blame in this’
An official with the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday warned against referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” saying that it could lead to racial profiling against Asians when “there is no blame in this.”
Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s Emergencies Program, at a news conference urged people to be “careful” with the language they use when referring to the ongoing pandemic.
“Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank,” Ryan said.
He warned against characterizing the virus in a way that could encourage xenophobic behavior, saying he was sure “anyone would regret profiling a virus along those lines.”
Ryan noted that a pandemic of influenza in 2009 originated in North America but “we don’t call it the North American flu.”
“This is a time for solidarity, this is a time for facts, this is a time to move forward together, to fight this virus together. There is no blame in this,” he said. “All we need now is to identify the things we need to do to move forward quickly, with speed and to avoid any indication of ethnic or other associations with this virus.”
His comments came after a reporter from the South China Morning Post asked about President Trump and his allies about frequently using the phrase “Chinese virus” to refer to the pandemic.
Ryan is not the first WHO official to push back against the phrase. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month that the term is “painful to see” and “more dangerous than the virus itself.”
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 2, 2020
COVID-19 first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December but has so far spread to more than 117 countries and territories.
“It’s not racist at all,” Trump said on Wednesday when a reporter asked about the phrase creating a dangerous stigma for Chinese Americans. “It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate.”
Q: “Why do you keep calling this the Chinese Virus?”
President Trump: “It comes from China…it’s not racist.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 18, 2020
Several other Republican leaders, including Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), have referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese coronavirus.”
Social media mentions promoting anti-Chinese rhetoric soared online in recent weeks since GOP lawmakers have begun referring to the coronavirus as a “foreign” and Chinese disease, according to a new analysis by a Washington think tank.
Trump, however, said Tuesday that he doesn’t think the phrase “Chinese virus” creates a stigma.