COVID-19 comment: Naming a coronavirus24 March 2020
Professor Ben Neuman, visiting professor at the University of Reading, and a member of the international committee on the taxonomy of viruses - coronavirus study group, explains how coronaviruses are named and why:
"The virus has a name, SARS-CoV-2, that succinctly conveys that this new virus is a close relative, in genetic terms, of the original SARS coronavirus.
"The disease also also has a name, COVID-19, that tells you that even though the virus is related to the one that caused SARS, this disease is a little different.
"Calling it the "China virus" would be inaccurate and would seem to me to be deliberately inflammatory - something out of a schoolyard bully's playbook, not a science textbook.
"The point of a name is to give people a way to accurately and specifically refer to a virus, and to tell how it is related to other viruses. The full name of the virus does just that, and using parts of the full name gives us a way to talk about this virus in the most general or most specific terms - Riboviria Nidovirales Cornidovirineae Coronaviridae Coronavirinae Betacoronavirus Sarbecovirus Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus SARS-CoV-2/Hu-1/Human/2019/Wuhan being one specific strain from a specific time and place.
"The origin story of SARS-related coronaviruses goes back much farther than China in 2019 - other members of Sarbecovirus are found in bats across Asia and Africa, Coronaviridae are found in birds, frogs and many land mammals other than humans, and Riboviria exist wherever there is life. Each level of a virus name takes us a step back up the family tree, to a wider and more ancient group of relatives."