You've successfully subscribed to Communicating Coronavirus
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Communicating Coronavirus
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Success! Your billing info is updated.
Billing info update failed.
What do I call it?

What do I call it?

Why you should use ‘coronavirus; for the sake of simplicity.

Dr. Kahreen Tebeau
Dr. Kahreen Tebeau

Coronavirus vs COVID-19 vs SARS-CoV-2 vs Covid vs Novel Coronavirus

Topline recommendation: Call it coronavirus.

Technical details


Coronavirus is the family of viruses which includes the common cold and others.

SARS-CoV-2 the species of coronavirus causing this current pandemic.

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

Why call it coronavirus?


Simplicity is the underpinning value of good public communication. In this case, it trumps scientific accuracy. If your audience know this crisis as coronavirus (hint: if your audience is the general public, they do) then stick with the term they will recognize and associate your message with. The media are predominantly adopting coronavirus as shorthand for this crisis, and harmony across all sources of information will make your message more resonant. Refer in the general to coronavirus but still be accurate when describing someone with the ailment as having COVID-19.

Example usage:

We are asking everyone to stay home to protect themselves and others from coronavirus. So far the coronavirus spread in our community has caused 1680 cases of COVID-19.

More detail


The SARS-CoV-2 virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) is in the same large family of viruses (coronaviruses) as the common cold, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) which caused their own epidemics in the last 20 years. It may be simpler to think of the difference between COVID-19 and coronavirus as the same difference between HIV and AIDS. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Source: Apple News

While technically correct, the name of the game in an urgent and emerging public health crisis is to get widespread uptake of your message and advice. That means dropping the jargon and meeting your audience where they are, and right now this is most widely known as coronavirus. There are many things to educate the public on at the moment, the differences between the various terminologies for the virus is not the most pressing or needed.

Our analysis of the media landscape finds that similarly coronavirus is the most widely adopted shorthand for this crisis, across major European and North American markets. An emerging common usage among government publications is coronavirus (COVID-19).

Source: The Guardian

The trouble with names


On 11 February 2020 the WHO announced COVID-19 as the name given to the disease associated with this new virus to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.

Although naming this disease coronavirus or COVID-19 is relatively unproblematic, other more pointed names such as the China virus which was briefly touted by President Trump can have negative repercussions. As the WHO's then Assistant Director-General for Health Security Dr Keiji Fukuda stated in 2015, "inappropriate naming can 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."

Coronavirus is far from the first to cause trouble. Despite concerted attempts by the Obama administration and the meat industries, influenza A (H1N1) is still more commonly remembered as the much catchier swine flu. And few remember that the Spanish flu did not in fact originate in Spain, so pervasive can naming conventions be.

Global norms


Despite the WHO's naming clarification, coronavirus is still the most commonly used and recognized term for the disease across the world:

Source: Google Trends

Furthermore, generally both in global media coverage and across government communications, coronavirus and COVID-19 appear to continue to be used interchangeably, though regional variations are reflected in Google search terms. For example, the UK government and public health bodies appear to be encouraging the use of COVID-19 on official documentation and clarifying the name as such: coronavirus (COVID-19), whereas both the media and government in Spain refer almost exclusively to coronavirus.

References: