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China- Health

Coronavirus changes name but risk remains

A laboratory worker puts on protective suit before examining specimens at a centre for disease control and prevention following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, China February 11, 2020.
A laboratory worker puts on protective suit before examining specimens at a centre for disease control and prevention following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, China February 11, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

The coronavirus has a new name: COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) chose it to avoid stigmatising a particular group, animal or location. Officials have however warned that the epidemic, which has now killed over 1,110 people, poses a global threat akin to terrorism.

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"We now have a name for the disease and it's Covid-19," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

The CO stands for corona, the VI for virus, the D for disease, and 19 for the year it emerged.

Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising,” Tedros told reporters. 

Tedros said the World Health Organisation had chosen a name that did not refer to a geographical location, animals, an individual or a group of people to avoid stigmatisation amid a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment.

Measures by certain countries to curb visitors from China have notably offended Beijing, which says they are an unscientific, fear-based over-reaction. 

The virus had been tentatively referred to as 2019-nCoV. Some people on social media had also referred to the respiratory illness as the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus.”

Race to find vaccine

Efforts to develop a vaccine meanwhile continue, however experts reckon one won't be ready for another 18 months.

In the meantime, the World Health Organisation has told countries to make do with what they already have, and above all "not to take any chances."

Hundreds of infections have been reported in dozens of countries and territories, with the death toll in mainland China now hovering at over 1,113 on Tuesday.

"We are not defenceless," Tedros insisted.

"We have to use the current window of opportunity to hit hard and stand in unison to fight this virus in every corner," he said Tuesday, on the first day of an international scientific conference in Geneva that will look at possible vaccine options to combat the virus. 

"If we don't, we could have far more cases and far higher costs on our hands."

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