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President Trump uses term "Chinese virus" to describe coronavirus, prompting a backlash

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President Trump again used the term "Chinese virus" to refer to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, despite calls from global health officials to avoid labels associating the disease with a particular nation or ethnic group. Mr. Trump's comments have drawn backlash and raised concerns about stigmatizing Asian-Americans.

His rhetoric gained growing attention Tuesday after he used the phrase in a tweet about supporting the airline industry as travel restrictions decimate their business. "The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!" he wrote. 

Scientists say the virus originated in Wuhan, China, late last year — but the World Health Organization has warned against using terms that associate diseases with certain groups of people. 

Despite that, Mr. Trump again referred to the coronavirus as "Chinese virus" on Twitter Wednesday morning and later at a White House press conference. Asked by a reporter why he continues to use a phrase that some consider to be racist, the president defended his terminology.

"Because it comes from China," Mr. Trump said. "It's not racist at all. It comes from China, that's why. I want to be accurate." 

The White House also noted that similar names for illnesses have used in the past. "Spanish Flu. West Nile Virus. Zika. Ebola. All named for places. Before the media's fake outrage, even CNN called it 'Chinese Coronavirus.' Those trying to divide us must stop rooting for America to fail and give Americans real info they need to get through the crisis," the White House said in a tweet.

On social media, many critics condemned the president's use of the term.

"Our Asian-American communities — people YOU serve — are already suffering," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Tuesday. "They don't need you fueling more bigotry." The NYPD is investigating several cases of potential hate crime attacks on Asian-Americans in recent days, and Asian-Americans across the country have reported experiencing heightened discrimination, bullying and harassment.

On Twitter, Dr. Eugene Gu responded: "I've been deathly afraid of this exact moment where Trump turns to racism and xenophobia and calls COVID-19 the 'Chinese Virus.' We are in deep trouble as a nation now that President of the United States makes the conscious decision to go down this dark path of hate."

Evangelical pastor Eugene Cho called for the president to set an example of unity instead of finger-pointing. "Mr. President: This is not acceptable," he wrote. "Calling it the 'Chinese virus' only instigates blame, racism, and hatred against Asians — here and abroad. We need leadership that speaks clearly against racism; Leadership that brings the nation and world together. Not further divides." 

However, at least one TV personality came out in support of Mr. Trump's remark Tuesday night. Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson praised the president, saying, "How is it inaccurate to call a virus from China 'Chinese?"

"Good for him," Carlson said. "That was Trump at his very best." 

The president has used such rhetoric before. In his Oval Office address last week, Mr. Trump made a point of referring to it as a "foreign virus" that "started in China." 

At a congressional hearing March 10, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, agreed when asked by Congresswoman Lois Frankel that it was "absolutely wrong and inappropriate" to call COVID-19 the "Chinese coronavirus."

"This painful rhetoric has consequences," Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said at another hearing March 12, calling out an unnamed Republican colleague who'd also referred to it as the "Chinese coronavirus." "Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we've seen not only the spreading of the virus but also a rapid spreading of racism and xenophobia."

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