Pompeo speaks of 'Wuhan virus' despite China's protests

Shaun TANDON
AFP

The novel coronavirus is getting a new name from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- the "Wuhan virus" -- despite objections from China where the illness was first detected.

For the second day in a row, Pompeo on Friday publicly referred to COVID-19 as the "Wuhan virus" or "Wuhan coronavirus," a reference to the central Chinese metropolis that is hardest hit.

Asked in a CNBC interview about the success of Beijing's response to the outbreak, Pompeo said, "I'm happy you complimented the Chinese Communist Party today, but remember this is the Wuhan coronavirus that's caused this."

And in a news conference on Thursday, Pompeo highlighted $37 million in US aid for countries hit by "the Wuhan virus's spread."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, asked in a briefing this week about the terms "Wuhan virus" or "China virus," said it was "highly irresponsible" for media to use them.

"By calling it 'China virus' and thus suggesting its origin without any supporting facts or evidence, some media clearly want China to take the blame and their ulterior motives are laid bare. The epidemic is a global challenge," he said.

Zhao insisted that no conclusion has been made on whether the virus originated in China.

COVID-19 cases were first reported -- and initially suppressed by authorities -- in late December in Wuhan, where scientists believe the virus was transmitted to humans at a market that sold exotic animals for consumption.

Pompeo rejected Chinese statements that the virus may have originated elsewhere and said it was "incredibly frustrating" that Beijing has not shared more information.

"I'm happy about the efforts that they have taken, but no less authority than the Chinese Communist Party said it came from Wuhan," he said in the CNBC interview.

"So don't take Mike Pompeo's word for it. We have pretty high confidence that we know where this began, and we have high confidence too that there was information that could have been made available more quickly."

The World Health Organization, in guidelines issued in February aimed at governments and media, warned that terms such as "Wuhan virus" could stigmatize people of Chinese origin and also discourage people from getting tested.

"The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization - the 'co' stands for Corona, 'vi' for virus and 'd' for disease; 19 is because the disease emerged in 2019," it said.

The virus outbreak, which has battered global economic confidence and markets, comes at a time of friction between the world's two largest economies, with the United States criticizing China on a host of issues from trade to human rights to military assertiveness.

The rest of President Donald Trump's administration has largely stuck to the term coronavirus. It has killed more than 3,400 people and infected more than 100,000 in 91 countries, according to an AFP tally.

China accounts for an overwhelming majority of the cases.

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