Coronavirus: WHO officially names disease COVID-19, death toll exceeds 1,110

A viral outbreak that emerged late last year in China and has infected more than 45,100 people globally has been officially named COVID-19.

The World Health Organization said it had decided on the name after consulting with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.

“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual, or group of people,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on Tuesday.

WHO also wanted a name that was “pronounceable and related to the disease," he said.

A laboratory technician removes his protective suit after leaving a laboratory in Shenyang in China's northeastern Liaoning province on Feb. 12, 2020. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The new name comes from “coronavirus," the type of virus that causes the disease. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause the common cold and some more serious diseases, including SARS, which killed 800 in 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which continues to cause sporadic cases and is believed to jump to humans from camels.

The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was first identified in late December in the city of Wuhan, in central China. To date, it has infected more than 44,600 people in the country and killed 1,113. Beyond China, the disease has struck at least 24 countries, causing 393 cases and 1 death, in the Philippines.

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Tedros said having a name for the new disease 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,” he said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati.