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Nature Journal apologizes for linking coronavirus to China

The respected British journal also urges others to be thoughtful as well about their words

Chinese police officers wearing masks in January 2020
Chinese police officers wearing masks in January 2020
(Betsy Joles / Getty Images)
Updated: April 10, 2020 - 2:04pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook


Nature, the well-respected British journal of science and medicine, issued an apology earlier this week for referring to the novel coronavirus that started in China city of Wuhan as the “Wuhan Virus.”

The apology reads, "That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologize.”

The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly denied that the virus originated in China, calling any naming to the contrary “a king of stigmatization.”

The journal addressed world leaders, including President Trump, who have referred to the virus’s apparent nation of origin.

Officials from various U.S. intelligence agencies have asserted that the Chinese government acted slowly in the beginning weeks of the spread of the virus in Wuhan, focusing more heavily on mitigating the news cycle than the illness itself.

China first reported the virus in late-December 2019. 

China is now suspected of underreporting their coronavirus case numbers and has been removed from several global case count resources due to doubts over its reported statistics

Perhaps missing those points, the editorial continues,“It’s clear that since the outbreak was first reported, people of Asian descent around the world have been subjected to racist attacks, with untold human costs – for example, on their health and livelihoods.”

The backlash against China appears global, as Japan has allocated $2 billion to pay companies to relocate their production facilities out of China.

In the United States, bills are being proposed by a number of GOP legislators, including Sens. Tom Cotton (Arkansas) and Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), and Rep. Mike Gallagher (Wisconsin), to encourage U.S. companies to source ingredients and goods outside of Chinese markets.

The Nature editorial also comments on the speculative social backlash that associating the coronavirus with China may have.

Without offering evidence to support the claim, the editorial goes on to postulate that many of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese undergraduate students who study at universities abroad will not return to their degree programs when the pandemic passes – for fear of experiencing racism.

The editorial concludes by equating the verbal naming of the disease to the logistical and medical steps that must be taken to prevent any further spread and help those who are already ill. 

“Many leaders want to listen to and act on expert scientific advice to deal with this pandemic and save lives. On terminology, the advice is clear: We must all do everything we can to avoid and reduce stigma; not associate COVID-19 with particular groups of people or places; and emphasize that viruses do not discriminate – we are all at risk.”

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