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China lobbied to rename ‘SARS-CoV-2’ to distance Wuhan from pandemic

Shocking emails obtained by US Right to Know reveals that in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of Chinese scientists lobbied through US Professor of the University of North Carolina Ralph Baric to rename ‘SARS-CoV-2’ given by the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Virus Taxonomy (ICTV) to 2019-nCoV.

In the correspondence, the Chinese scientists feared that the virus would become known as ‘Wuhan Coronavirus’ or ‘Wuhan Pneumonia’.

In an email dated 13/2/2020, Professor Shi Zhengli wrote to Ralph Baric. The subject of the email was ‘Virus Name’. The email had an attached document titled, ‘A unique and unified name for the novel coronavirus from Wuhan SJ clean’

The email stated:

“Dear Ralph,

We heard that the 2019-nCoV was renamed as SARS-CoV-2. We had a fierce discussion among Chinese virologists. We have some comments on this name, I’m wondering if the CoV study group would consider a revision.

I attached the comments from me and my Chinese colleague.”

The document from Prof. Shi Zhengli to Prof. Ralph Baric states:

“A unique and unified name is needed for the novel coronavirus identified from Wuhan

An outbreak of ‘unusual pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China was first reported in December 2019.  By 5 January 2020, Chinese scientists had quickly identified the causative agent a new type of coronavirus (CoV) belonging to the Betacoronaviruses genus of the Coronavirdae family that also includes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)- CoV.

On 12th January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) temporarily named the virus as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). On 30th January, WHO recommended naming the disease as “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease”. On 8 February 2020, the China National Health Commission (CNHC) announced naming the disease as “Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia” (NCP). On 11th February 2020, WHO renamed the disease “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19). On 7 February 2020, the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Virus Taxonomy (ICTV) posted a manuscript at bioRxiv and suggested designating the novel coronavirus as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2  (SA RS-CoV-2)” based on the phylogenetic analysis of related coronaviruses.

Zhengli further in her document to Ralph Baric expresses, “By 11th February 2020, the new coronavirus had caused more than 40,000 confirmed infections and more than 1000 deaths, mostly in mainland China, in spite of efforts by the Chinese government and its people to contain the spread of the virus in past weeks. lt goes without saying that the effects of the epidemic on all the aspects of Chinese life are devastating and, possibly, irreversible. Consequently, appropriately naming the virus and disease becomes a matter of importance to the Chinese people, in general, and virologists, in specific, and the issue has been fervently discussed and debated among scientists with the outcome, so far, as noted above. We fully agree that the new virus and SARS-CoV belong to the same virus species by classification, However, the consensus opinion of Chinese virologists is that none of the currently proposed names reflects the uniqueness and characteristics of the novel virus and that more consideration is needed for naming the virus. Based on the following reasons, we propose giving a unique and unified name to the new virus.

Prof Shi Zhengli, also known as the ‘Batwoman’ continues to impress upon Ralph Baric on behalf of the group of Chinese scientists, she expresses, “All proposed names are either too generic, or too similar, to previously well-known viruses, or contain an Arabic number. This makes it hard to remember or recognize, leading to a tendency among the general population and scientists alike to use a shorthand term such as “Wuhan coronavirus” or “Wuhan pneumonia” This has, in fact. been the case since it was named as 2019-nCoV. This practice would, however, stigmatize and insult the people in Wuhan, who are still suffering from the outbreak.

The document sent by Prof Zhengli to Ralph Baric, further states, “The new virus is still evolving, and it is still too early to predict the outcome of the current outbreak. However, it is already clear that the infection of the new virus has diverse symptoms, from asymptomatic infection to severe pneumonia and even death. It has less case-fatality rate and higher transmissibility than SARS-CoV, indicating its clear difference from SARS-CoV. Again. therefore, it is not appropriate to designate the new virus as SARS-CoV-2 before we know more properties of the virus.”







Savio Rodrigues

Savio Rodrigues Founder & Editor-in-Chief
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