The novel coronavirus disease, which has spread from China to 24 other countries around the globe, has received its official name – COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The announcement comes after the death toll of the respiratory illness passed 1,000, with more than 40,000 infected, surpassing that of the SARS outbreak in 2003. The term COVID-19 means coronavirus disease, with CO meaning corona, VI virus, D for disease, and 19 pertaining to the year it emerged, being 2019.
COVID-19 cases started to emerge in the last week of December 2019 in a seafood market in Wuhan City, Hubei province, in China. Chinese doctors alerted the WHO of the new emerging illness, but as the weeks passed by, the death toll rapidly increased with about a hundred deaths reported each day.
The Coronavirus Study Group, which is part of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, coined the name for the virus itself. The group formally recognize the novel coronavirus as a sister to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses (SARS-CoVs) and designated it as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in a paper published in bioRxiv, an online journal. So now it is recognized that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID19).
Coronaviruses (colored transmission electron microscopy image). Image Credit: Dr. Fred Murphy & Sylvia Whitfield/CDC
“The present outbreak of lower respiratory tract infections, including respiratory distress syndrome, is the third spillover, in only two decades, of an animal coronavirus to humans resulting in a major epidemic,” the team wrote on the paper.
An official name for the disease will help prevent inaccuracy while providing a standard format for future outbreaks, the WHO clarified.
“Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization, we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.
The magnitude of the virus spread
In mainland China alone, 108 people died on Feb. 10 and 2,478 new cases, bringing the total global number to 44,138, according to the latest virus spread update. The global death toll has reached 1,107, with one death reported in Hong Kong and one death in the Philippines.
Health officials in Hubei province reported an additional 1,638 new cases of the disease, bringing the total number of cases in the epicenter of the outbreak to 33,366.
On a cruise ship, Diamond Princess, where thousands of people are currently quarantined, an additional 39 people tested positive for the coronavirus at sea off the coast of Japan. The new case followed 66 others who were confirmed to have the virus on Feb. 10, bringing the total number of patients to 136.
Test of global solidarity
The WHO chief, Dr. Ghebreyesus said that the outbreak is testing nations in many ways. The current outbreak is a test of global solidarity, with all sectors from across the globe fighting a common enemy that does not respect borders or ideologies.
He added that with the help of funding and support, there is a chance that the world can beat COVID-19. Investing in evidence-based interventions, diagnostics, and vaccines will help curb the outbreak and prevent it from wreaking havoc again.
Meanwhile, the health agency said a vaccine maybe 18 months away and urged the people not to rely on the vaccine. Instead, they should make use of available preventive measures in dealing with the deadly virus.
Wuhan lockdown came in too late
A study in late January by researchers from Southampton University projected the potential global spread of the coronavirus disease between January and April 2020. Using flight itineraries and location data from Baidu, a Chinese tech giant, they were able to estimate where people traveled, even before Wuhan was locked down.
Asia and nearby countries are at the highest risk of the spread of infections, with Thailand as the number one destination among Chinese people. The team estimated that about 59,912 air passengers left Wuhan to a total of 382 cities outside mainland China two weeks before the city was locked down on Jan. 23.
The researchers said that with the number of people who left the city and traveled to other countries, a global spread of the deadly virus is inevitable.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus – The species and its viruses, a statement of the Coronavirus Study Group Alexander E. Gorbalenya bioRxiv 2020.02.07.937862; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.07.937862