Pompeo uses racist term for coronavirus despite warning from global health experts

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Pompeo is disregarding World Health Organization guidance advising against using geographic locations to name diseases.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stoked xenophobia against people of Asian descent Friday morning when he incorrectly called the novel coronavirus the "Wuhan virus" — referring to the area of China where the first cases of the new virus were reported.

Pompeo's comments follow warnings from the World Health Organization against using such terminology, as well as several reports indicating that racist hostility is on the rise in the United States over the virus.

"It's a complicated challenge, the Wuhan virus that began at the end of last year, is something that this administration is taking very seriously," Pompeo said during an appearance on "Fox & Friends" Friday morning.

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"The State Department has been very involved from the beginning when we worked diligently to get Americans out of Hubei province, out of Wuhan, and get them back to the United States safely," Pompeo said.

The WHO in 2015 discouraged people from naming new infectious diseases based on the geographic area they originated in, saying that doing so "has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors."

"This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, then assistant director-general for health security at the WHO, said in 2015.

"We've seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods," Fukuda said.

Unlike what Pompeo said, the disease caused by the new coronavirus is called COVID-19 — an illness that can cause severe respiratory distress.

The virus affects people in the same way no matter their race or nationality, and is currently impacting numerous countries across the globe, including Italy, Iran, South Korea, and China.

In the United States, there are currently 99 confirmed cases across 13 states, with 10 reported deaths so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the number could be much higher, as there are few people being tested for the illness.

Still, the coronavirus has led people of Asian descent to be the target of racist comments and even assaults.

In February, a Thai-American woman on the Los Angeles subway was harassed by a man spewing racist attacks, CNN reported.

In New York City, a Chinese woman wearing a face mask was violently attacked in the Subway. The New York Police Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime.

Aside from racist attacks, racism, and xenophobia is causing people to stop going to Chinese restaurants, hurting Asian-owned businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who represents San Francisco and its large Asian-American population — has encouraged people to still go to Chinatown in her home city.

Pelosi visited a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco last month to try and assuage fears of the virus.

"It was a pleasure to try my hand at making fortune cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (with a little guidance from owner Kevin Chan, of course)," Pelosi tweeted. "The message inside? 'United We Stand.'"

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.