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World Health Organisation officially names coronavirus COVID-19

Staff writers, February 2, 2020 2:15PM Kids News

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Airline staff wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus at Brisbane International Airport, Qld, on Monday January 27, 2020. Picture: AAP media_cameraAirline staff wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus at Brisbane International Airport, Qld, on Monday January 27, 2020. Picture: AAP


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The World Health Organisation has officially named the coronavirus COVID-19.

The “co” stands for “corona”, “vi” for “virus” and “d” for “disease”, while “19” was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on December 31.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the name had been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatisation.

Dr Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland it could take 18 months before the first vaccine to fight the virus is created. Teams of scientists around the world are working on understanding the virus in preparation for creating a vaccine.

On January 30, WHO declared the coronavirus* outbreak* a global emergency.

The declaration came as Australia ordered a travel ban on foreigners* flying here from mainland China and brought home more than 500 Australians, with the first group taken to Christmas Island – off the northwest coast of mainland Australia – and the second group to Darwin, NT for quarantine for two weeks. These Australians had been trapped in Wuhan, which is the epicentre* of the virus*. 

The UN health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes* a risk to other countries and requires a co-ordinated international response.

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.

“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” he said. 

China first informed WHO about cases of the new virus in late December.

media_cameraA man uses a thermographic camera to identify people who may have a fever, which could indicate they are ill with coronavirus, at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, India on January 21, 2020. Picture: AFP/Ministry of Civil Aviation

To date, more than 43,000 cases have been reported worldwide and 1018 people have died, almost all of those in China.

There are 15 confirmed cases of infection in Australia and 11 Australians have tested positive on a cruise ship called Diamond Princess, which is docked near Tokyo, Japan. 

The new virus causes cold and pneumonia-like symptoms* and had never previously been seen in humans.

Governments around the world — including in Australia — plan for situations like this and are working on controlling its spread.

New SARS-like virus spreading in Asia media_cameraPassengers wear protective masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus as they arrive at Los Angeles International Airport, US, on January 22, 2020. Picture: AFP

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the risk to most Australians was generally low.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the travel ban to Australia was imposed to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

“I want to assure Australians that we are doing everything that we can and through these actions to protect Australia from what is an escalating* threat and a constantly changing situation,” Mr Morrison said. 

Although many people who catch this coronavirus will only feel like they have a regular cold, it is dangerous to people whose immune system* is already weak because, for instance, they have a different illness at the same time or are old and frail.


  • Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses named after the Latin word corona for crown, because that’s what they look like under a powerful microscope.
  • The common cold is also a type of coronavirus.
  • Australia’s Department of Health advises symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and headaches, and difficulty breathing.
  • For those with a weakened immune system there’s a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
  • Because it is a new virus, there is no vaccine* to prevent a person catching it or medicine to treat it.
  • The only way to stop it spreading is to stop close contact with people who have the virus.
  • Scientists don’t yet know for sure how humans first got this new coronavirus, but as coronaviruses are common in animals, one theory is that it spread from an animal to a human.
Concern In China As Mystery Virus Spreads media_cameraA woman wears a protective mask as she stands with decorations marking the Chinese New Year holiday in Beijing, China on January 26, 2020. The celebrations at this location were cancelled to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images


  • coronavirus: a group of a particular type of viruses
  • outbreak: a sudden occurrence, such as of war or disease
  • foreigners: people who live overseas. 
  • epicentre: central point of something, especially something unpleasant or a problem
  • quarantined: kept separate to avoid spreading a disease
  • detention: prevention of someone leaving somewhere. 
  • virus: microscopic infective agent that can cause illness
  • tenfold: 10 times the number
  • symptoms: physical or mental signs that someone has an injury or disease
  • escalating: rising
  • incubation: developing an infection from time of contact to when symptoms appear
  • immune system: organs and processes in the body that provide protection against infection and disease
  • vaccine: a substance that helps the immune system get to work developing protection against a disease


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  1. What is this new coronavirus called?
  2. What are the symptoms?
  3. Where was the coronavirus first noticed?
  4. Where does the corona part of the name come from?
  5. Who is Brendan Murphy and what does he say about the risk to Australians?


1. Help calm people
There is a bit of panic about the spread of COVID-19. However, the risk to most Australians is generally low.
Help calm some of the panic by using information in the article to create a fact sheet about the virus.

Include: where the virus originated, what the symptoms are, who is most likely to be affected and how the authorities are helping to stop the spread of the disease.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education, Science

2. Extension
Is it a good decision for the Chinese authorities to restrict travel from the Hubei Province?

Consider the following perspectives when formulating your response:

  • World Health Organisation
  • A health worker in a Wuhan hospital
  • A parent of an Australian child stuck in Wuhan
  • A local Wuhan resident

When considering your response think about how this travel ban might affect the people mentioned above, what benefits it has for the world community and what problems the travel ban might create to individuals and the broader community.

Write a response to this question using a minimum of 2 paragraphs. Include the reasons for your opinion.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Health and Physical Education, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical Capability

What can we do at school to help reduce the spread of germs in the classroom?

Make a list of strategies for the classroom and include a little information about each tip you have.

Think about tables, chairs, drink bottles, sink areas, food breaks, lunch box storage, etc.

Try and keep tips clear and simple, and include pictures for the younger grades.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Explain at least one thing you and people around you already do to stop the infectious illness from spreading. What could you do better?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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