How the new coronavirus will finally get 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.

“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.

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