This is The Atlantic’s weekly email to subscribers—a close look at the issues our writers are watching, just for you.
1. THE STORY OF A NEW NAME
The naming of a disease is a minefield of potential misinformation and stigmatization.
Sarah Zhang is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers science.
The World Health Organization took several weeks to announce an official name for the new coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, late last year: COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.”
Naming a disease is a surprisingly sensitive undertaking. With COVID-19, WHO adhered to naming guidelines finalized in 2015 that recommend steering clear of names associated with people, places, and animals—think Ebola, Lyme disease, and swine flu, which link a disease to a place or group despite sometimes dubious connections. (Egypt, for example, slaughtered all its pigs during the 2009 outbreak of swine flu, an illness that’s not spread through pigs.)
Confusingly, however, virologists gave the actual virus behind COVID-19 an entirely different name: SARS-CoV-2, which comes from its genetic similarity to the virus behind the 2003 SARS outbreak. China was reportedly unhappy about the comparison because the diseases that each virus causes are not the same. For now, COVID-19 appears to be less deadly than SARS.
2. DAYS OF ABANDONMENT
What’s happening in places that have banked on tourism from China?
Timothy McLaughlin is a Hong Kong–based contributing writer at The Atlantic.
This coronavirus outbreak is still the biggest news story in Asia, as the number of cases continues to shoot up, cruise ships ping-pong unwelcome from port to port, and toilet paper and face masks are suddenly hot commodities. This past week, I traveled from Hong Kong to Macau and Yangon for a glimpse into how the spread of the virus is taking a toll on the travel and tourism industry in the region, which is heavily reliant on Chinese visitors. (In Myanmar, for instance, the number of tourists from China rose from 20 percent of the total number of visitors in 2018 to 38 percent in 2019.)
In Yangon, shop owners, hoteliers, and tourism officials feared an industry-wide downturn. In Macau, I found the Cotai Strip, lined with some of the world’s busiest casinos, all but silent: Officials had shut down the gambling hub in response to the outbreak.
3. BEWARE THE FAR RIGHT FORMING ALLIANCES
The big lesson out of a small election in a German state that plunged the country into a national crisis
Yasmeen Serhan is a London-based staff writer at The Atlantic. She’s interested in all things nationalism and populism.
Last week, the far-right Alternative for Germany backed a center-right candidate for state governor in the country’s eastern state of Thuringia—a candidate also supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s more centrist ruling Christian Democrats. He won.
Such an alliance is a big deal in Germany, where cooperation between mainstream parties and the far right remains extremely taboo. Not only did the just-elected state governor resign in the fallout, but the leader of the Christian Democrats, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer—Merkel’s own chosen successor—did too.
If Europe’s mainstream parties take away anything from this episode, it should be this: As politics continues to fragment, far-right parties will grow only more influential. The only way to avoid working with them is for mainstream parties to seek out new partners, including nontraditional allies on the left, such as the Greens.
4. WHAT FICTION CAN DO
Literature has distinguished The Atlantic from its beginnings.
Thomas Gebremedhin is a New York–based editor at The Atlantic, where he helps oversee the new fiction initiative.
Over more than 160 years, our magazine has helped shape the literary canon, publishing destined-to-become-classic short fiction by writers such as William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Raymond Carver, and Alice Munro.
We are (re)committing to regularly running exceptional short fiction. In January, we published Lauren Groff’s “Birdie,” and this month we published Samantha Hunt’s “Go, Team” (if you are interested in the craft, here is my Q&A with Hunt). Both writers bring a distinctive perspective and stylistic approach to their work. The presence of such stories in our pages functions both as a welcome distraction from the news of the day and as another entry point into understanding humanity.
Each month, we will be searching for writers, established as well as new, whose fiction surprises and moves us—fiction that, as the short-story writer Jessamyn West once said, “reveals truth that reality obscures.”
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