Conservative lawmakers, commentators labeled 'racist' for calling COVID-19 'Chinese' or 'Wuhan' virus

Chinese officials are pushing back on the expression "Wuhan coronavirus" -- saying the name used frequently by American conservative leaders and commentators to describe the place COVID-19 originated unfairly stigmatizes the Asian nation and borders on being racist.

The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December. At that time, many media around the world began referring to it as the "Wuhan virus." But last month, after some pressure, the World Health Organization renamed the illness COVID-19 in an effort to destigmatize a specific location or group of people.

The name change didn't stop some, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who blew past warnings and deliberately referred to it as the "Wuhan virus" after China's foreign ministry called it "highly irresponsible" to do so.

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said that his country firmly opposes it.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has frequently used the term on the Senate floor.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., faced backlash online for calling the disease "the Chinese coronavirus." 

"Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus can be found on one, regularly-updated website," McCarthy wrote, linking to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, which refers to it as Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19.

Economist David Rothschild tweeted at McCarthy, "Our government is super racist: also they really suck at keeping US safe and prosperous."

Dr. Eugene Gu, founder and CEO of Cool Quit, tweeted: "So now it's the Chinese coronavirus? Why is racism against Asians so widely accepted and tolerated in this country?"

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who is among one of the members of Congress in self-quarantine, wrote on his personal Twitter account that he and three members of his senior staff are under self-quarantine after coming into "contact at CPAC with a person who has since been hospitalized with the Wuhan Virus. My office will be closed for the week."

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California slammed his congressional colleagues who referred to the disease as the "Wuhan virus." Lieu said using the phrase is "an example of the myopia that allowed it to spread in the US. The virus is not constrained by country or race."

He tweeted, "#COVID2019 can be carried by anyone: a US citizen, a Japanese tourist, an undocumented youth, or a Member of Congress. #Coronavirus doesn't care about your party, your gender or religion. It's not Chinese, it's a virus."

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Fox News' Tucker Carlson has also come under fire for referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese Coronavirus."

"The Chinese Coronavirus epidemic turns out to be just that, an epidemic. There's no denying that now," he said Monday, prompting some to call him out for his choice of words.