This strain of coronavirus was first detected in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The illness caused by the virus, which has since infected thousands in China and several other countries, had been nameless since the outbreak began. It was commonly referred to as 2019-nCoV by health officials.
The UN health agency explained that the name COVID-19 consists of the CO in coronavirus, VI in virus and D for disease; 19 stands for the year 2019.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the name was carefully chosen to avoid stigma and that other names could be inaccurate.
“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal or an individual or group of people,” he said.
“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”
Tedros said there are currently more than 42,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China. A total of 1,017 people have died in the outbreak. Outside of China, there are 393 cases reported in 24 countries.
During a press conference, Tedros urged countries to be “as aggressive as possible” in fighting the outbreak.
“If the world doesn’t want to wake up and consider the virus as public enemy number 1, I don’t think we will learn from our lessons,” Tedros said.
“We are still in containment strategy and should not allow the virus to have a space to have local transmission.”
The virus that causes COVID-19 was also renamed Tuesday. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, which classifies and names viruses, stated that the virus was now to be called SARS-CoV-2, which stands for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.”
It made this decision based on its assessment that this new virus was a “sister” to other SARS viruses.