Using the term “Wuhan virus” to refer to COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is racist, according to numerous liberal politicians, commentators and journalists.
Days after Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was “highly irresponsible” for media outlets to call the highly contagious disease the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus,” a debate has erupted on social media over the appropriateness of the terms.
“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,” Zhao told reporters during a briefing last week.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has urged against the use of “Wuhan Virus,” “Chinese Virus” or “Asian Virus” to describe COVID-19.
“The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization,” the WHO said in a statement.
MSNBC anchor David Gura expressed agreement with the WHO over the weekend, tweeting: “FYI: Calling #COVID19 the ‘Wuhan Virus’ is racist.”
Oh, really? What race is Wuhan?
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) March 9, 2020
Pro-choice activist Ilyse Hogue slammed Republican Rep. Paul Gosar for “Using racist terms like ‘Wuhan virus.’“
Using racist terms like "Wuhan virus" is why your family ran ads against you. Stop it. https://t.co/Ik8vAClZOW
— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) March 9, 2020
Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics appointed by Barack Obama in 2013, accused supporters of President Donald Trump of “invoking racist tropes” by using the phrase, “Wuhan virus.”
“Desperate Trump supporters are trying to label COVID-19 the Wuhan virus to distract from the fact that the Trump administration’s failures have increased the danger here in the U.S. It’s childish, but it has the advantage of also invoking racist tropes. They like that,” he tweeted on Monday.
Desperate Trump supporters are trying to label COVID-19 the Wuhan virus to distract from the fact that the Trump administration's failures have increased the danger here in the U.S. It's childish, but it has the advantage of also invoking racist tropes. They like that. https://t.co/FdxttJqnBt
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) March 9, 2020
Eugene Gu, a former resident physician who has accumulated a mass following on Twitter for his forceful criticism of the president, joined in on the pile-on.
“Most people call it the coronavirus. Some call it Covid-19. But only the most ignorant and racist among us would call it the Wuhan virus,” Gu said in a since-deleted tweet.
Campus Reform editor in chief Cabot Phillips, however, surfaced one of Gu’s tweets from earlier in the year, in which he referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan coronavirus.”
Who wants to break it to him that he’s a racist now? pic.twitter.com/k5WB2obyvb
— Cabot Phillips (@cabot_phillips) March 9, 2020
“Who wants to break it to him that he’s a racist now?” Phillips tweeted.
A “severe flu season”
The number of confirmed U.S. cases of coronavirus was at 566 on Monday, including 22 deaths, according to state public health authorities and a running national tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University center tracking the outbreak.
About three-fourths of the 50 states have reported infections.
“Right now we’re telling people to act as if this is a severe flu season,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in an interview with Fox News from West Palm Beach, where President Donald Trump spent the weekend at his Florida resort.
Grisham also said the Trump administration was working with California officials managing the cruise ship Grand Princess as they prepared on Monday to send 2,400 passengers to quarantine centers at four military bases across the country.
“We’re working hard to get that ship home,” she said.
The coronavirus originated in China last year and causes the sometimes deadly respiratory illness COVID-19.
The outbreak has killed 3,800 globally.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)