A simple mistake turned the pandemic into chaos
The COVID-19 disaster probably derived from an elementary scientific error
On February 11, 2020, WHO renamed the new virus from its scientifically agreed name,” SARS CoV-2,” to “the COVID-19 virus”.
WHO did this because, “using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003”.
To mark the change, new forms for death certificates were distributed all over the world. Doctors were mandated to tick the “COVID-19” box if they knew or assumed that the virus was somehow involved or present.
Here is from the US version of the death certificate: “COVID-19 deaths are identified using a new ICD–10 code. When COVID-19 is reported as a cause of death – or when it is listed as a “probable” or “presumed” cause — the death is coded as U07.1. This can include cases with or without laboratory confirmation.”
For not “creating unnecessary fear for some populations”, WHO has set aside its own guiding principle, that “viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names.”
As the distinction between the virus and the disease was confused:
- Everyone who has tested positive for the virus or is suspected to have been infected by the virus, is registered as having the disease.
- Every person who has tested positive for the virus or is suspected to have been infected by the virus, at death, is classified as victims of COVID-19.
This has sent both “cases of COVID-19” and “deaths from COVID-19” through the roof and motivated a desperate response to the pandemic from the authorities, largely driven by unmotivated fear.
This is from WHO home page published on February 11th, 2020
Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it
Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus” and the disease it causes. The official names are
Disease coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
Why do the virus and the disease have different names?
Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, but not the name of the virus that causes it.
There are different processes, and purposes, for naming viruses and diseases.
Viruses are named based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Virologists and the wider scientific community do this work, so viruses are named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).
Diseases are named to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment. Human disease preparedness and response is WHO’s role, so diseases are officially named by WHO in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
ICTV announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different.
WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease on 11 February 2020, following guidelines previously developed with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
WHO Director-General's remarks at the media on 11 February 2020
WHO Situation Report on 11 February 2020
WHO and ICTV were in communication about the naming of both the virus and the disease.
What name does WHO use for the virus?
From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.
For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when communicating with the public. Neither of these designations are intended as replacements for the official name of the virus as agreed by the ICTV.
Material published before the virus was officially named will not be updated unless necessary in order to avoid confusion.”