Nature apologises for naming the coronavirus after the city of Wuhan

British scientific journal Nature apologises for naming the coronavirus after the Chinese city of Wuhan ‘which may have fuelled racist attacks across the world’

  • The science journal apologised for ‘associating’ the virus with China and Wuhan
  • In an editorial, the publication wrote: ‘That we did so was an error on our part’ 
  • They said the link had triggered racist attacks against people of Asian descent
  • It had once been common practice to name viruses after their area of outbreak 
  • The World Health Organisation had advised against this in 2015 to curb stigma

The leading British scientific journal Nature has apologised for an ‘error’ in its coronavirus reports that named the virus after Wuhan where the outbreak began. 

In an editorial, the publisher said that such associations with the Chinese city had helped to fuel racist attacks against people of Asian descent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had issued a statement in February that the novel coronavirus should be referred to as COVID-19. 

This, Nature said, should have been ‘implicit reminder’ to itself and other news organisations not to name the disease after its country of origin.

The article went on to explain that it was once common practice to link viral diseases with their area of outbreak.

For example, by using such names as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and the Zika virus — which was named after a forest in Uganda.

However, guidelines introduced by the WHO in 2015 encouraged an end to such associations in an effort to curb stigma.

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British scientific journal Nature has apologised for ‘associating’ coronavirus with Wuhan and China in its news coverage, saying the linkage had led to racist attacks (file photo)

The journal said: ‘That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologise.’

‘Failing to do so has consequences,’ the journal added.

‘It’s clear that since the outbreak was first reported, people of Asian descent around the world have been subjected to racist attacks, with untold human costs — for example, on their health and livelihoods.’

‘Law-enforcement agencies say they are making investigation of hate crimes a high priority, but such inquiries might come too late for some.’

This, they added, includes ‘many of the more than 700,000 Chinese undergraduate, master’s and PhD students studying at universities outside China.’

The editorial said that a ‘minority of politicians’, including US President Donald Trump, Eduardo Bolsanaro — the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro — and unnamed UK MPs are still ‘sticking with the outdated script’. 

Trump previously used the term ‘Chinese virus’ to describe coronavirus and federal lawmaker Eduardo Bolsanaro claimed in a tweet the disease was ‘China’s fault’.

In May 2015, the WHO called on organisations involved in communicating health information to ‘follow best practices in naming new human infectious diseases’ in order to ‘minimise unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people’. 

In an editorial published on Tuesday (above), the publication said: ‘That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologise’

Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, previously said: ‘In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. 

‘The use of names such as “swine flu” and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatising certain communities or economic sectors.’

He added: ‘This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. 

‘We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. 

‘This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.’

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