12 months in a phrase: Covid-19

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(noun) Illness attributable to a novel coronavirus first recorded in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, which shortly unfold worldwide and precipitated probably the most severe international pandemic since influenza in 1918.

The phrase that has outlined 2020 was first spoken in public by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Well being Group. At his each day media briefing about coronavirus on February 11, he introduced: “We now have a reputation for the illness: Covid-19. I’ll spell it: C O V I D hyphen 19.”

Covid stands for COronaVIrus Illness and 19 for the 12 months during which it was first detected. The WHO’s disease-naming tips meant avoiding phrases which may trigger offence or stigmatisation. “We needed to discover a title that didn’t check with a geographical location, an animal, a person or group of individuals,” Mr Tedros stated.

Spain nonetheless resents the best way the 1918 pandemic was known as “Spanish flu”. And in 2009, the WHO bowed to strain from the meat trade and agreed to cease referring to a brand new virus pressure as swine flu, switching as a substitute to influenza A (H1N1). So, the title couldn’t point out Wuhan, China or the bats during which the brand new coronavirus is believed to have originated.

However Covid-19 met one other naming criterion: being fairly pronounceable. As time has handed, the 19 suffix has more and more been dropped and the pandemic simply known as Covid.

In a separate announcement on February 11, the world physique liable for viral nomenclature, the Worldwide Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, known as the pathogen that causes the illness Sars-Cov-2.

This title was chosen as a result of the brand new virus is intently associated to the one liable for the 2003 Sars outbreak but it surely has two disadvantages. Sars-Cov-2 doesn’t journey off the tongue or pen, and the completely different names for illness and pathogen have precipitated confusion.

It might have been easier to name the virus Covid-19 too. Defenders of the twin naming level out that viruses and the ailments they trigger typically have completely different names, like HIV and Aids — that are easy and memorable. However an an infection that everybody is speaking about has by no means earlier than confronted such troublesome nomenclature.

Many publications — together with the Monetary Occasions — attempt to preserve the excellence between Covid-19 and Sars-Cov-2, whereas others together with the WHO itself are starting to desert the pathogen’s title and check with “the Covid-19 virus”.

Within the mild of subsequent occasions, it’s unhappy to evaluate different remarks by Mr Tedros at his February 11 briefing. “If we make investments now in rational and evidence-based interventions, now we have a sensible likelihood of stopping this outbreak,” he stated. “There’s a window of alternative.”

The world didn’t take the chance. Mr Tedros reported then a complete of 43,101 Covid-19 instances and 1,018 deaths — just one fatality outdoors China. The official toll now’s 74m instances and 1.65m deaths worldwide, with an financial value operating into tens of trillions of {dollars}.

clive.cookson@ft.com

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