The name was announced by the World Health Organisation this morning. “COVID” is an abbreviation for “coronavirus disease” and the 19 refers to when it was first identified, in late 2019.
It’s not just “the coronavirus” because coronavirus is a family of viruses including SARS, MERS, and several viruses that cause the common cold.
It doesn’t have “Wuhan” in the name, because nobody wants their hometown to be known for a disease. How would you feel telling people you live along the Ebola river?
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"We now have a name for the #2019nCoV disease:
I’ll spell it: C-O-V-I-D hyphen one nine – COVID-19"
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 11, 2020
The WHO put out guidelines for naming new diseases a few years ago. While sensible, they eliminate a lot of the more obvious options. No naming them after places, people, or animals (like “swine flu”), because those names tend to either be stigmatizing, or they give people the wrong impression—like in the case of swine flu, assuming you can avoid the disease by avoiding pigs.
So we have COVID-19, appropriately scientific and descriptive while also being pronounceable. It’s catchy! It also sounds just a little bit like a name you’d hear in an outbreak thriller movie. In any case, it’s bound to stick.