It has been claimed in a fairly upvoted answer here (which is why this not a notable-enough claim for Skeptics SE) that

For a fun exercise, put a news organization into google's search along with "Wuhan Virus" and scroll through a few pages of results. You'll find things generally split into two camps: 90% of the results are for recent articles which talk about racism/non-racism/etc of the term... and 10% of the results are for articles from Jan/Feb which use "Wuhan Virus" as the term of choice to describe the virus in a straight-forward manner. [...] So now the term "Wuhan Virus", which up until a month ago was a professional term, is full-out racist.

How much of the US media referred to COVID-19 as the "Wuhan virus" before it received an official WHO designation on February 11th? Basically, was this "Wuhan virus" (term) a common occurrence in the US media in Feb and Jan this year?

  • See my answer to your previous question here for some examples
    – CDJB
    Mar 24, 2020 at 11:40
  • 1
    @CDJB: Yeah, I'm tempted to close my (new) question as a duplicate, but some usage being showcased doesn't quite answer my (newer) question quantitatively. Also, most of your examples are technically using "[new] China/Chinense virus" or something like that, not even referring to Wuhan. I do wonder if "Wuhan virus" was considered more neutral/accurate (and thus was more widespread) as the claim implies. Mar 24, 2020 at 11:44
  • we don't use "negro" or "cripple" anymore either, though they were once common; when better terms come out, polite society adopts them.
    – dandavis
    Mar 26, 2020 at 21:09
  • While you are there, what fraction of the Chinese media called it Wuhan virus until the CCP decided they needed to stop that? It was pretty close to all.
    – puppetsock
    Mar 29, 2020 at 2:36

2 Answers 2


Max Rissuto from DFRLab has analysed this in an article published on March 17th which tests the media bias claims made by Republican politicians including GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who tweeted that "Democrats are trying to score political points by calling Republicans racist" and that the "media called it 'Chinese coronavirus' for weeks". While McCarthy uses the term 'Chinese coronavirus', Rissuto's analysis also includes the term 'Wuhan Virus'. It should be noted however that this analysis was performed on all English language publications, not just US-targeted media, and has only collected data up until March 10th.

DFRLab conducted a series of queries using a media monitoring tool to test the claim that media organizations are acting hypocritically in this way, gathering information about how geographic adjectives were used by the media to describe the disease before the official name of "COVID-19" was applied by the WHO. This data is summarized in the chart below.

enter image description here (Source: @MaxBRizzuto/DFRLab)

From this data, we can see that the terms 'Wuhan Virus' & 'Wuhan Coronavirus' both had widespread use in English language media from the end of January up until the WHO named the disease on February 11th. The usage was comparable to the usage of the terms 'China Virus', and less commonly, 'Chinese Coronavirus'. After this date, we see the usage fall away dramatically, albeit not entirely, up until the recent debacle surrounding the use of geographic adjectives by various US and international politicians. This could also be due to the fact that as the virus spread throughout China, publications that would have used 'Wuhan Virus' found 'China Virus' to be more accurate.

In conclusion then, while a significant proportion of articles used the term 'Wuhan Virus' prior to naming conventions for the disease being established, after this point most media outlets switched to using the official terminology. The usage of the term has seen a resurgence in the media recently due in part to publications reporting on some politician's continued use of this terminology.

  • 12
    Nice to see a quantitative study on this (already). Mar 24, 2020 at 12:05
  • 5
    It would be interesting to see some information about the spread of covid-19 over the same time period. When it was first detected "Wuhan Virus" would be an accurate description, and later "China virus" would be more accurate. However when it has spread globally the meaning changes from "place that is currently affected" to "place that it originated from" and all the connotations that come with that.
    – ewanc
    Mar 24, 2020 at 17:57
  • 1
    This section titled "How the virus spread around the world" at this link seems to show some interesting correlations - theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2020/mar/24/…
    – ewanc
    Mar 24, 2020 at 18:07
  • 3
    I wish they'd used better colours to show the race/location thing. "China" terms and "Wuhan" terms should be similar colours. "Coronavirus" should be a similar colour to "COVID-2019" Mar 25, 2020 at 10:23
  • 1
    I would also note that the Wikipedia article for the outbreak was called the 'Wuhan Coronavirus' until the nCOV/COVID nomenclature was given by WHO
    – costrom
    Mar 25, 2020 at 13:40

The usage of "Wuhan virus", "Chinese virus", and similar terms was widespread.

The Washington Post ran a front-page, above-the-fold headline reading Chinese virus infections and death toll spike:

enter image description here

CNN termed it "the Wuhan coronavirus" multiple times here:

China goes into emergency mode as number of confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases reaches 2,700

Hong Kong (CNN)The death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus now stands at 80

Politico called it the "Wuhan Virus" here

Wuhan virus has killed over 100 in China

There have now been 106 deaths linked to the Wuhan virus

The BBC called it "Wuhan Virus"

Wuhan virus continues China's lockdown

The NY Times:

The first case of the Wuhan virus was detected on Dec. 12. ...

San Francisco Chronicle

The Wuhan virus is a cousin of SARS and MERS. All three are coronaviruses

Los Angeles Times:

But while we are worrying about the Wuhan virus ...

  • 15
    This is a reasonable series of examples, but the question asks for quantitative numbers ("how much"). This definitely shows that the term was used by all these papers, but doesn't explain how frequently, over what timespan, or even whether or not they're still doing so.
    – Bobson
    Mar 24, 2020 at 15:33
  • 51
    Furthermore, the headline "Chinese virus infections spread..." does not mean that they're referring to the virus as the "Chinese virus"; it could be that "Chinese" modifies "infections," meaning "virus infections in China," and "death toll," meaning "the death toll in China." The fact that "Chinese virus" appears to be absent from the article supports this interpretation.
    – phoog
    Mar 24, 2020 at 18:57
  • @phoog Especially given the date--at that time the infections were almost all in China. Mar 26, 2020 at 20:22
  • No, the "Chinese" designation is referring to the number of infection and deaths, because they are statistics specific to the nation of China. That's not a designation of the virus. It's saying "Chinese deaths and infections from virus spike". -1 for intentional misleading. Apr 16, 2020 at 16:12
  • Note that every single other link in this answer pre-dates the WHO giving the virus its official name. Apr 16, 2020 at 16:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .