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Japan minister backs neutral virus names despite use of 'Wuhan virus' by gov't figures

Defense Minister Taro Kono is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Akinori Miyamoto)

TOKYO -- Instances of uses of the term "Wuhan virus" and other loaded appellations have been heard repeatedly from senior government officials in Japan to refer to the novel coronavirus.

Touching on the issue at a March 13 press conference, Minister of Defense Taro Kono told reporters, "The use of the term 'new coronavirus' in Japan, and the term 'COVID-19' internationally, is already entrenched, so there's no issue."

And although State Minister of Defense Tomohiro Yamamoto, Kono's deputy, used the term "Wuhan virus" at the ministry, Kono said, "The Self-Defense Forces and the Ministry of Defense comply with the policies of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare." His comments suggested that there is no need to change the way the virus is referred to.

The WHO has named the new disease COVID-19, a combination of an acronym for the term "coronavirus disease" and 2019, the year it was first recorded. Use of the name Wuhan was eschewed to avoid stigmatizing the central Chinese city where it is believed to have first emerged.

Even so, use of the term "Wuhan virus" has spread among other politicians, particularly United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and conservative Japanese lawmakers. On his Twitter account, Yamamoto has written of "disaster relief to fight the Wuhan virus," among other mentions.

Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister and minister of finance who also heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) Shikokai faction, of which Kono is also a member, has also referred to a "Wuhan virus" in press conferences.

Behind these instances appears to be an attempt to be explicit about where the coronavirus epidemic emerged, thereby instilling an image of the current pandemic as due to the Chinese government's failure to contain it.

In response to these suggestions, Kono said, "If the WHO or ministry of health discuss the matter, then fine." The Ministry of Finance overseen by Aso is reportedly not considering changing the name of the new coronavirus.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe, Political News Department)

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