On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the new disease first identified in Wuhan, China. The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated to COVID-19.
In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. Previously, scientists were referring to this disease as “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV”.
The name coronavirus is derived from the Latin corona, meaning “crown” or “halo”. The name refers to the characteristic appearance of virions (the infective form of the virus) by electron microscopy. The virus particles have crown-like spikes on their surface, due to club-shaped protein. The seven coronaviruses that can infect people. There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.
Merriam-Webster defines “corona” as “the projecting part of a classic cornice” or “something suggesting a crown”. Also, “an appendage or series of united appendages on the inner side of the corolla in some flowers”.
COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) selected the name of this disease in accordance with their best practices for the naming of new human infectious diseases.
WHO’s best practices for naming new human infectious diseases
The aim of these best practices is to minimise unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare. In addition, to avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.
“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatising certain communities or economic sectors,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO. “We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”