‘A bit chaotic.’ Christening of new coronavirus and its disease name create confusion | Science
“COVID-19. I’ll spell it: C-O-V-I-D hyphen one nine. COVID-19.”
That’s how Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), launched the company’s official name for the new disease that’s paralyzing China and threatening the remainder of the world. The christening yesterday, at one of WHO’s now day by day outbreak press conferences in Geneva, ended 6 weeks of uncertainty about what the disease could be known as—but it surely additionally created some new confusion.
COVID-19 is a name for the disease, not for the virus that causes it, which till now had a brief moniker, 2019-nCoV, signifying it was a novel coronavirus that emerged final 12 months. But the pathogen additionally bought a new designation, which arrived earlier than Tedros had even completed his press convention, by method of a preprint posted on bioRxiv by the physique charged with classifying and naming viruses. The Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, the paper famous, had determined to name the virus extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
Misunderstandings have been inevitable. Journalists listening to Tedros’s press convention tweeted that the virus lastly had a name, COVID-19, solely to right themselves moments later. Although nomenclature is a minor difficulty amid a widening public well being disaster, even some virologists have been greatly surprised by the seemingly conflicting bulletins. “Ok, one day two names for the same virus,” Marion Koopmans of Erasmus Medical Center wrote on Twitter. “Sounds like some people need to meet and sort things out.”
“I agree it is a bit confusing,” says virologist Alexander Gorbalenya of Leiden University, a member of CSG and the primary writer on the bioRxiv manuscript concerning the virus. “The explanation is complex, and some people may not have enough patience.”
The discrepancy comes from WHO and CSG following fully completely different routes to their labels. WHO named the disease sticking to some usually accepted rules. Disease names can’t check with individuals, teams of individuals, or geographical areas, which will be stigmatizing; additionally they shouldn’t embody names of animals, which will be deceptive as a result of some animal viruses leap species and turn out to be a human pathogen, as SARS-CoV-2 has accomplished. WHO’s chosen name, COVID-19 is simply quick for coronavirus disease 2019. (The first recognized pneumonia circumstances from the virus occurred in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.) The name offends nobody and will be recycled if different coronaviruses leap from animals to people within the years forward.
For the virus, CSG took a scientific method, says its chair, virologist John Ziebuhr of Justus Liebig University Giessen. Based on its not too long ago sequenced genome, the new virus belongs to the identical species because the virus that triggered the SARS epidemic of 2002–03, which is named SARS-related coronavirus. (“Species” are troublesome to outline in viruses, whose genomes change on a regular basis, however Gorbalenya’s group has provide you with a system to take action for coronaviruses, described in two papers in 2012, that’s usually accepted, says Raoul de Groot of Utrecht University, who’s additionally a member of CSG.)
The virus could also be novel to the remainder of the world, but it surely isn’t actually to taxonomists, Ziebuhr says, so it’s not getting its personal name. Instead, the committee appended a “2” for viruses remoted from sufferers in Wuhan and elsewhere.
Ziebuhr says WHO has knowledgeable him that the name doesn’t sit effectively with China, which has resisted any comparisons between the present disaster and the traumatic 2002–03 coronavirus epidemic, which additionally emerged first in that nation—if solely as a result of the new virus seems to have a decrease mortality fee and way more usually causes gentle disease. ““It’s important to make clear that this name is not a reference to the disease this virus causes. There is no link between the name and the disease SARS. That’s the difficulty that WHO is facing,” Ziebuhr says. He factors out that lots of of different viruses present in bats and different animals—many by Chinese researchers—all carry the identical species name as effectively.
A WHO spokesperson didn’t reply to emailed questions at the moment, and the naming points didn’t come up at at the moment’s press convention.
Why the 2 names emerged virtually concurrently is a bit of a thriller. Gorbalenya says he despatched the manuscript to bioRxiv on Friday. When it nonetheless hadn’t appeared on-line yesterday afternoon, he despatched the repository an e mail to ask why there was a holdup. “Then it was posted within an hour,” he says. “But I didn’t know WHO would make an announcement.”
However, CSG additionally submitted the manuscript to a journal for publication, Ziebuhr says, which in flip despatched it to WHO. (Scientific publishers have agreed to share any new details about the virus with the company instantly.) Ziebuhr says he doesn’t know whether or not WHO, realizing that the name SARS-CoV-2 could be introduced quickly, determined to make its personal announcement yesterday.
Ziebuhr says he had hoped to coordinate his group’s work with WHO, as occurred with the Middle East respiratory syndrome–associated coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, which emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Then, WHO was on board with the name, as was the Saudi authorities and different stakeholders; it was successfully a joint announcement. (The companions all agreed to make an exception to the no-location rule, deeming the Middle East large enough that no particular group could be stigmatized.)
That type of coordination merely wasn’t doable now, Ziebuhr says. “WHO is so overwhelmed with what’s going on there, they didn’t have the time,” he says. But the name “needed to get out,” Ziebuhr says. “Scientists want to have clear guidance.”
Koopmans, who’s a member of a WHO advisory committee on the disease, says, “Ideally, these releases would have been coordinated.” What occurred yesterday was “a bit chaotic” says Koopmans, who attended a assembly in Geneva the previous 2 days to set analysis priorities for the new virus. But she doesn’t see it as a serious difficulty.