Viruses don’t have a nationality, and as we can clearly see, they do not discriminate in whom they infect. It’s a racist misnomer to call it the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan flu.” It’s an attempt to politicize language about an illness that is a global crisis, to place blame when lifesaving action is what’s needed. As the US has been criticized for failing to act more quickly to test people for and contain the coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump has deliberately and repeatedly called it the “Chinese virus.”
Early on in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it was called “gay-related immune deficiency,” or GRID. Even worse, it was casually referred to as “the gay plague.” It’s clear how that kind of language can perpetuate the idea that a disease may only impact a select group of people — which is entirely inaccurate — and how it preys on prejudices. And such terminology allows leaders to continue to ignore something that could wind up killing millions of people.
So while we encourage you to write “the coronavirus” (using the article the) to refer to the kind of virus and to say “COVID-19” when you mean the disease, we also want to acknowledge that some abuses of language are far more detrimental than others.