World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (center) at a news conference following an international conference on COVID-19 on January 12, 2020 in Geneva. (AFP / Fabrice Coffrini)

World Health Organization says COVID-19 means ‘coronavirus disease 2019’ – not 'China outbreak virus'

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Claims that COVID-19, a name the World Health Organization (WHO) created for the deadly novel coronavirus that broke out in China, stands for “China Outbreak Virus in December 19” have been viewed hundreds of times in various Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and Weibo posts. The claim is false; the WHO confirmed COVID-19 is an abbreviation of “coronavirus disease 2019” and said that geographical locations are not included when naming diseases to avoid stigmatisation.

The claim was made on Twitter here on February 12, 2020. "#COVID19 stands for China Outbreak Virus in December 19," the tweet reads. 

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post: 

Similar claims were also shared on Twitter here, here and here; on Instagram here, here and here; on Reddit here; on Facebook here; and on Weibo here

The claim is false; the WHO announced that COVID-19, which has now killed at least 1,300 and infected nearly 60,000 in China, stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.” 

"We now have a name for the disease and it is COVID-19. And I will spell it, C-O-V-I-D-hyphen-one-nine," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on February 12, 2020. “‘CO’, C-O, stands for corona, ‘VI’ stands for virus, ‘D’ for disease, so ‘COVID’.” 

Tedros added that the WHO chose a name "that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or a group of people, and which is also pronunciable and related to the disease." 

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreak," he said. 

The WHO also tweeted the new name for the disease in this February 12 post: “We now have a name for the #2019nCoV disease: COVID-19. I’ll spell it: C-O-V-I-D hyphen one nine – COVID-19" - @DrTedros #COVID19”.

According to WHO guidelines on “Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Disease,” geographical locations, people's names, species/class of animal or food, cultural, population, industry or occupational references and terms that incite fear should be avoided.  

Below is a screenshot of the guidelines: