China's National Health Commission decided to temporarily name the new virus pneumonia as "Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia", or NCP, on Saturday at a press briefing.
This came after the World Health Organization (WHO) had earlier recommended the temporary name 2019-nCoV, but many still refer the virus as "Wuhan Virus," by the name of the city where it originated. Some even have called it the "China Virus.”
Not only individuals, some media organizations' inflammatory and discriminatory reporting has further exacerbated the stigmatization. The Wall Street Journal carried an article headlined as "China is the real sick man of Asia." Australia's Herald Sun's headline read, “Chinese virus pandamonium.” A French paper ran a front-page article warning of a “Yellow Alert.”
Facing an unknown epidemic, it is understandable there is vigilance, but we must not let that vigilance go too far and become racism and discrimination. In history, we've seen certain diseases' names provoke an abusive backlash and potential racism against members of particular ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals.
For instance, we have wrongly called the viruses as "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome" and "Spanish flu", and those names have largely stigmatized entire regions or ethnic groups.
The danger of stigmatization and racism is not just driving a wedge between different groups of people. It can also make the sick reluctant to seek medical care, thus counterproductive to the fight against the virus.
Given that any negative regional or ethnic discrimination can only inflict more pain on those who suffer the most, it is the responsibility of the whole world to ensure that there is no stigma associated with the disease.
To contain the spread of the virus within the shortest time possible, China has implemented the strictest measures, with the lockdown of the city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak where about 11 million people reside, for about two weeks. Meanwhile, China has identified the pathogens in record time, shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with the WHO and other countries.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highly praised China's effective control measures, saying "if it weren't for China's efforts, the number of cases outside China would have been very much higher." Bloomberg ran an article on Feb. 6, headlined "China Sacrifices a Province to Save the World From Coronavirus."
Virus knows no boundaries. As Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, the virus may have started in China, but it does not respect nationality or race, it does not check your passport before it goes to your body. Anyone and any nation could fall victim to the deadly virus.
It was reported that the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses will formally unveil the name of the novel corovirus within days.
As the world are waging a tough battle against the epidemic, a consensus should be reached among international communities that like patients infected with the virus, those promoting stigmatization and racism will eventually be quarantined. As Ghebreyesus said, "this is the time for solidarity, not stigma."