A year in a word: Covid-19

(noun) A disease caused by a novel coronavirus first recorded in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, which spread rapidly worldwide and caused the worst global pandemic from influenza in 1918.

The term 2020 has been first publicly spoken by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. At his daily media briefing on coronavirus on February 11, he announced: “We now have a name for the disease: Covid-19. I spell it: COVID 19. “

Covid stands for COronaVIrus Disease and 19 for the year in which it was first diagnosed. WHO disease naming guidelines were meant to avoid words that could cause offense or stigmatization. “We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical place, an animal, an individual or a group of people,” Mr Tedros said.

Spain still exploits the so-called 1918 pandemic of “Spanish flu”. And in 2009, the WHO shifted pressure from the meat industry and agreed to stop referring to a new strain of virus such as swine flu, switching instead to influenza A (H1N1). Thus, the name could not refer to Wuhan, China or the bats in which the new coronavirus is believed to have originated.

But Covid-19 met another naming criterion: being reasonably pronounced. As time has passed, the 19 suffix has gone down and the epidemic is just called Covid.

In a separate news release on February 11, the global body responsible for viral naming, the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses, has identified the pathogen that causes the Sars-Cov-2 infection.

This name was chosen because the new virus is closely related to the one responsible for the 2003 Sars revolution but has two disadvantages. Sars-Cov-2 does not travel off the tongue or pen, and the various names for disease and pathogen have caused confusion.

It would have been simpler to call the Covid-19 virus as well. Proponents of the dual name state that viruses and the diseases they cause have different names, such as HIV and Aids – which is simple and memorable. But a disease that everyone has ever talked about before has not been so pronounced.

Many publications – including the Financial Times – try to maintain the distinction between Covid-19 and Sars-Cov-2, while others include the WHO itself begins to omit the name of the pathogen and refers to “the Covid-19 virus”.

As a result of subsequent events, it is difficult to review other comments by Mr Tedros at his meeting on 11 February. “If we now invest in reasonable and evidence-based interventions, we have a reasonable chance of halting this behavior,” he said. “There is a window of opportunity.”

The world did not take the opportunity. Mr Tedros then reported a total of 43,101 Covid-19 cases and 1,018 deaths – just one death outside China. The official tax is now 74m cases and 1.65m deaths worldwide, with economic cost running into tens of trillions of dollars.

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