Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it
Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus”) and the disease it causes. The official names are:
severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
Why do the virus and the disease have different names?
Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, such as measles, but not the name of the virus that causes it (rubeola).
There are different processes, and purposes, for naming viruses and diseases.
Viruses are named based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Virologists and the wider scientific community do this work, so viruses are named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).
Diseases are named to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment. Human disease preparedness and response is WHO’s role, so diseases are officially named by WHO in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
ICTV announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different.
WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease on 11 February 2020, following guidelines previously developed with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
WHO and ICTV were in communication about the naming of both the virus and the disease.
What name does WHO use for the virus?
From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.
For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when communicating with the public. Neither of these designations are intended as replacements for the official name of the virus as agreed by the ICTV.
It has been reported that coronavirus was part of a Chinese “biological weapons” program, based at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has seen at least two leaks of viruses in the last three years.
Conservative MP, Tobias Elwood who was the chairman of the British Defence Select Committee from 2017 until 2019, expressed concerns last month over the Chinese Army’s role at the Wuhan Institute for Biological Products and called for the “greater transparency over the origins of the coronavirus.”
Tom Cotton, a US Senator and law Professor, Francis Boyle have both suggested in February coronavirus, officially called Covid-19 may have been a Chinese “biological weapon.”
In 2017, Richard Ebright a US molecular biologist expressed caution when the WIV was expanded to become mainland China’s first biosafety level 4 laboratory, noting there have been previous escapes of the SARS virus at other Chinese laboratories.
Last month, the Iranian cleric Seyyed Mohammad Saeedi accused President Donald Trump of targeting the city of Qom with coronavirus “to damage its culture and honor.”
Saeedi claimed that “by targeting Qom, Trump is fulfilling his promise of hitting Iranian cultural sites if Iranians took revenge for the US killing of the elite Quds Force commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani.”
Hossein Salami, the head of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has claimed the coronavirus outbreak in Iran may be due to a US “biological attack.”
On 26 January the Chinese military news site, Xilu published an article detailing how the virus was artificially combined by America to “precisely target Chinese people,” the article was removed in February.
Washington DC based non-profit Middle East Media Research Institute along with numerous other writers in the Arabic press all claim SARS and the swine flu virus, were deliberately created and spread by the US to make a profit on selling vaccines against these diseases.
“Which is “part of an economic and psychological war waged by the US, against China with the aim of weakening it and presenting it as a backward country and a source of diseases.”
However, In February 2020, The Financial Times reported from virus expert and global co-lead coronavirus investigator, Trevor Bedford, who said that, “there is no evidence whatsoever of genetic engineering that we can find.”
Bedford said, “The evidence we have is that the mutations [in the virus]are completely consistent with natural evolution.”
The coronavirus investigator added, “The most likely scenario, based on genetic analysis, was that the virus was transmitted by a bat to another mammal between 20 to 70-years ago.
“This intermediary anima not yet identified, passed it on to its first human host in the city of Wuhan in late November or early December 2019.”
Moreover, there is a third laboratory, where the Chinese Army has a role at the Wuhan Institute for Biological Products and the second is the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control & Prevention.
The report by South China’s university revealed the theory of the origin of coronavirus.
“Surgery was performed on the caged animals and the tissue samples were collected for DNA and RNA extraction and sequencing.
“They were only 280 metres from the seafood market and the WHCDC was also adjacent to the Union Hospital where the first group of doctors were infected during this epidemic.
“It is plausible that the virus leaked around and some of them contaminated the initial patients in this epidemic, though solid proof is needed in future studies.”
Chinese scientific researchers Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao wrote, “We screened the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus.
“Within 280 metres of the market, there was the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, which hosted animals in laboratories for research purposes, one of which was specialised in pathogens collection and identification.
“In one of their studies, 155 bats were captured in Hubei province, and another 450 bats were captured in Zhejiang province.
“The expert in the collection was noted in the Author Contributions.”
The report conclusion was, “The second laboratory was 12 kilometres from the seafood market and belonged to Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“The principal investigator participated in a project which generated a chimeric virus using the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system and reported the potential for human emergence.
“A direct speculation was that SARS-CoV or its derivative might leak from the laboratory.
“In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.”