return icon Vietnamnet.vn

How the new coronavirus will finally get a proper name

Scientists have told the BBC that after grappling behind closed doors they are close to an announcement.

 

 

It has infected thousands of people, closed borders and put parts of China into lockdown. But the virus causing the outbreak of illness does not yet have a proper name.

It has been referred to as the coronavirus. But that is the name of the group of viruses it belongs to.

It has also been given the temporary title 2019-nCoV. But just saying that is a mouthful.

A group of scientists has been grappling behind closed doors to find a proper term. Now they have told the BBC they are close to announcing it.

So why has it taken so long? 

"The naming of a new virus is often quite delayed and the focus until now has been on the public health response, which is understandable," says Crystal Watson, senior scholar and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

"But there are reasons the naming should be a priority."

To try to distinguish this particular virus, scientists have been calling it the novel or new coronavirus. Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like spikes when viewed through a microscope.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the temporary name 2019-nCoV, which includes the year it was discovered, "n" to denote new or novel, and "CoV" for coronavirus. But it has not exactly stuck.

"The name it has now is not easy to use and the media and the public are using other names for the virus," says Dr Watson.

"The danger when you don't have an official name is that people start using terms like China Virus, and that can create a backlash against certain populations."

With social media, unofficial names take hold quickly and are hard to take back, she says.

 

The urgent task of formally naming the virus is the responsibility of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).

Previous outbreaks provide cautionary tales for the team. The H1N1 virus in 2009 was dubbed "swine flu". This led Egypt to slaughter all of its pigs, even though it was spread by people, not pigs.

Official names can also prove problematic. The WHO criticised the name Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2015.

"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," it said in a statement.

As a result, it issued guidelines. According to these, the name for the new coronavirus should not include:

  • Geographical locations
  • People's names
  • The name of an animal or a kind of food
  • References to a particular culture or industry

It says the name should be short and descriptive - such as Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

But for the name to stick it also needs a hook, says Benjamin Neuman, a professor of virology who, along with 10 other people, sits on the ICTV study group that has been deliberating the new name.

"It has to roll off the tongue a little faster than the other names out there."

The team began discussing a name about two weeks ago and took two days to settle on one, says Prof Neuman, who is chair of Biological Sciences at Texas A&M University-Texarkana in the US.

They are now submitting the name to a scientific journal for publication and hope to announce it within days.

As well as helping the public understand the virus, the ICTV hopes it will allow researchers to focus on fighting it by saving time and confusion.

"We will find out in the future whether we got it right," says Prof Neuman.

"For someone like me, helping to name an important virus may ultimately end up being longer-lasting and more helpful than a career's worth of work. It's a big responsibility." BBC

MORE NEWS

Vietnamese network operators now manufacturing cameras

Most cameras provided in the local market are foreign made.

Vietnam’s most modern library

Located at National Economics University, the most modern library in Vietnam covers around 10,000 square metres and is funded by the World Bank through the Support for Autonomous Higher Education Project.

China purchases more Vietnamese fruit for lunar new year holiday

Chinese demand for fruit for the lunar new year holiday accounts for up to 50 percent of Vietnam’s total fruit exports. Experts warn that the products may get stuck at border gates.

Press agencies need to become technological institutions: minister

Twenty years ago, editors-in-chief took pride in the fact that while printing machines were working, distributors were sitting eating bread and waiting for the first newspapers to be put out to deliver.

VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS DECEMBER 4

Vietnamese innovative startups should strive to become regional, international “unicorns”: PM

Seven more prosecuted in bribery case at foreign ministry

The investigation agency under the Ministry of Public Security has issued decisions to prosecute, arrest and search the residences and workplaces of seven more individuals for their involvement in a bribery case at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

VIETNAM NEWS HEADLINES DECEMBER 4

President arrives in Seoul, beginning state visit to RoK

IFC plans to pour 320 million USD into three Vietnamese banks

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, has proposed a total investment of 320 million USD in three Vietnamese banks, reported the Nikkei Asia.

Girl with brittle bone disease opens class for poor students

As she wasn't able to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher due to congenital vitreous disease, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tam opened a free class for poor students.

Miniature-human sculptures popular with customers

The price of a sculpture ranges from one to five million VND, depending on the difficulty of the model. Eight to 19 ordered products are made per day to guarantee progress as well as the quality of the sculpture for the customer.

Lacquer village outlasts centuries-old craft

Alongside a wide range of products made from natural materials such as wood, bamboo and rattan, the village also has created new gold- and silver-inlaid products made from ceramic, pottery, and composite.

Local firms do business in P2P lending market

P2P Lending has become a hot issue in Vietnam, especially with the participation of Chinese businesses.

Vietnam to hold first cat fish festival soon

Vietnam’s first cat fish festival is scheduled to take place in the southern province of Dong Thap on December 16-17.

Control of bad content on social networks should be tightened

Tik Toker No O No, who criticized the poor, was boycotted by the community and forced to shut down by the authorities. He is not the first Tik Toker that has posted bad content on social networks.

Businesses struggle to keep workers as exports slow

Businesses have been struggling to maintain and support their workers as the Lunar New Year approaches.
back_to_top