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Coronavirus disease gets an official name: COVID-19

The virus itself has also been named. It will be known as SARS-CoV-2.

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Oscar Gonzalez Former staff reporter
Oscar Gonzalez is a Texas native who covered video games, conspiracy theories, misinformation and cryptocurrency.
Expertise Video Games, Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, Cryptocurrency, NFTs, Movies, TV, Economy, Stocks
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Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Oscar Gonzalez
Jackson Ryan
2 min read
Coronavirus

The outbreak started at the end of December in Wuhan, China.

Getty Images

The novel coronavirus, first discovered in the city of Wuhan, China, and reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, has rapidly spread across mainland China. In the past six weeks it's infected over 40,000 Chinese citizens and killed more than 1,000. During that time, the virus had a placeholder name -- 2019-nCoV -- while the respiratory illness it causes remained unnamed.

On Tuesday, WHO officially named the illness caused by the coronavirus "COVID-19," with "CO" representing "corona," "VI" for "virus" and "D" for disease. The "19" relates to the year when the first cases presented in China.

The Coronavirus Study Group, part of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, was responsible for naming the coronavirus itself. The virus will be known as SARS-CoV-2, according to a preprint paper uploaded to bioRxiv by the study group.  

So:

  • The novel coronavirus, previously dubbed 2019-nCoV, is now officially named SARS-CoV-2.
  • The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is now officially named COVID-19

The new coronavirus has genetic similarities to the virus that caused the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003. The naming convention is very similar, but it's a little confusing. SARS -- severe acute respiratory syndrome -- was the disease, while SARS-CoV was the virus that caused the disease.

An official name will help prevent inaccuracy and stigmatizing while also providing a standard format for any future outbreaks, WHO said during a media briefing to provide updates on the outbreak. 

"Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization, we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. 

The organization said it's assisting other countries with how to prevent the disease and how to help those who are already sick. 

Fears about the novel virus spreading across the globe have created havoc for international travel to and from mainland China, caused the closure of a handful of tech firms in China and dramatically reduced the attendee list for this year's Mobile World Congress. A number of big names -- Amazon, Sony, Nvidia, LG -- will skip the world's biggest mobile trade show, citing public health concerns. 

Originally published on Feb. 11, 8:47 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:18 a.m. PT: Adds background details. Update, 1:49 p.m. PT: Clarifies virus names/disease names.