Bill Maher Questions Naming of Coronavirus: "Why Should China Get a Pass?"

The late-night host used his "New Rules" segment on his HBO show on Friday to explore the history of diseases being named after the places they came from, such as Zika and Ebola.
Janet Van Ham/HBO
Bill Maher

In a new episode of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher on Friday, host Maher questioned why the novel coronavirus isn't named after the country in which it derived from. He used his "New Rules" segment to explore the issue, specifically titling it "Virus Shaming."

"Scientists, who are generally pretty liberal, have been naming diseases after the places they came from for a very long time," Maher began. "Zika is from the Zika forest; Ebola from the Ebola river. Hantavirus from the Hantan river. There is the West Nile virus and Guinea Worm and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and, of course, the Spanish flu. MERS stands for 'Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome,' it’s plastered all over airports and no one blogs about it."

Referring to the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, the late-night host then asked, "So why should China get a pass?" He referenced a tweet from Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA), where he said, "The virus is not constrained by country or race. Be just as stupid to call it the Milan virus." Maher said in response, "No, that would be way stupider because it didn’t come from Milan. And if it did, I guarantee we’d be calling it the Milan Virus. Jesus fucking Christ, can’t we even have a pandemic without getting offended? When they named Lyme Disease after a town in Connecticut, the locals didn’t get all ticked off."

The host then emphasized, "Seriously, it scares me that there people out there who would rather die from the virus then call it the wrong name." And later in the segment, he backed up his point by noting that physician and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci recently suggested a "global closure of wet markets" in China due to their possible link to the outbreak of the coronavirus. 

Continuing his thought experiment, Maher said, "So when people say, 'What if people hear "Chinese Virus" and blame China?' The answer is, we should blame China. Not Chinese Americans, but we can't stop telling the truth because racists get the wrong idea. There are always going to be idiots out there who want to indulge their prejudices, but this is an emergency. Don't we have bigger tainted fish to fry? Jesus, if the sun was exploding, Twitter would pile on the first guy who called it a Dwarf Star."

Toward the end of his segment, Maher said, "Sorry, Americans, we're going to have to ask you to keep two ideas in your head at the same time. This has nothing to do with Asian Americans and it has everything to do with China. We can't afford the luxury anymore of non-judginess towards a country with habits that kill millions of people everywhere, because this isn't the first time. SARS came from China, and the Bird flu, and the Hong Kong flu, and the Asian flu. Viruses come from China like shortstops come from the Dominican Republic."

He went on to hypothesize, "If they were selling nuclear suitcases at these wet markets, would we be so non-judgmental, and isn't this pretty close to what they are selling? And the next one could be even worse."

View the whole segment below.