What’s in a name? For China, everything. With conspiracy theories floating about the virus being synthesised by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), based in the city where the disease was first identified and the world demanding an independent investigation into the origins of the disease, there seems to be a growing demand for accountability from China. Here are some questions answered about the China lab theory and why it is not right to call it the China virus
The conspiracy theory that the virus was allegedly synthesized in the Wuhan Institute of Virology making it man-made from US President Donald Trump. On 31 April, President Trump slammed the WHO said: “I think the World Health Organization should be ashamed of themselves because they're like the public relations agency for China”. This was done despite the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence issuing a statement, on the very same day, saying, “the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified”. However, US President Trump has relied on this theory to refer to the virus as “Chinese virus”.
China has vehemently denied reports of the virus originating from a lab in Wuhan. The Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Communist Party chief Yuan Zhiming reportedly told a Chinese media house on 20 April, “There is absolutely no way that the virus originated from our institute”.
The WHO in describing the disease says, “This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019”, but does not say that China is responsible for the virus and the outbreak. According to research published in medical journals like Lancet in February 2020, the first known outbreak occurred in Wuhan and was initially traced to a wet seafood market, but some of the earliest cases have no link to that market.
Yes, the WHO has in the past named diseases after geographic locations, examples of which are MERS which stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome, Spanish Flu, Ebola Virus and Japanese Encephalitis. Ebola was named after a river near Yambuku in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the outbreak was first spotted. The Spanish Flu was called that despite the first case originating and being recorded in Kansas, USA.
The WHO changed its international taxonomy guidelines which strictly recommends against naming diseases after a geographic location to reduce the stigma attached to it. Below is a snapshot of the World Health Organization Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases published in May 2015. This is also advocated against geographic locations being used to name viruses to reduce racial attacks against people from the region.