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Coronavirus - a glossary to all the words and terms in the English language (and also known internationally)

Updated 28 April, 2020: this page will no longer be updated unless there is some significant new vocabulary and terms to add.


Within the media, both in the English-speaking world and abroad, there's been a lot of vocabulary connected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has either been long out of use, only used occasionally, and even new to the language.


So this may be a good opportunity to get to know some of them (with more to be added, I'm sure).


All of the example sentences have been taken from current news reports provided by the BBC, the World Health Organisation, Wikipedia, the UK National Health Service (NHS) and countless other sources.

care worker Also known as health care assistants, community carers, and domiciliary carers, these are people who are employed to support and supervise those people who would be considered vulnerable (weak and without protection), weak or ill, and usually old, disadvantaged (live in bad conditions and tend not to get a good education or have a reasonable standard of living) or people under the care of the state. With COVID-19, there has been more focus on protecting hospital staff by supplying them with PPE, but the disease has been spreading quickly among care homes, with care workers receiving little or no protection. In the UK care workers have finally been recognised, with the UK public now including these staff in their public clap for carers recognition applause. A popular health care assistant who was "dedicated to patient care" has died after contracting coronavirus


China See Wuhan.

chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) This is a common lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. There are two main forms of COPD: Chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus, and Emphysema, which involves damage to the lungs over time. Most people with COPD have a combination of both conditions. See also chronic respiratory diseaseMr Sewell's widow, Jean, said her husband had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. She said he contracted the coronavirus at home and was taken into hospital.

chronic respiratory disease This is a long-term condition (chronic) that affects the human respiratory system, a series of organs that are responsible for taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. The primary organs of the respiratory system are the lungs, which carry out this exchange of gases as we breathe. Without regular treatment, the disease could possibly result in death. See also chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)Coronavirus can affect anyone, but people with pre-existing health problems such as chronic respiratory disease and older people are thought to be at greater risk of developing severe symptoms.

'clap for carers' An initiative in the UK for people to applaud NHS staff and care workers as a  "Clap for Carers" tribute, saluting NHS and care workers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of the lockdown, the applause has taken place at 8pm UK time every Thursday. For the clap for carers tribute, The Royal Family and the prime minister joined well-wishers who flocked to their balconies and windows to applaud those working on the front line in the battle against COVID-19.

community carer See care worker.

community spread This is the spread of a contagious disease to individuals in a particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently travelled to an area where the disease has been recorded and reported. According to the country's Central Disaster Relief Headquarters, an estimated 70 percent of nationwide cases are due to community spread.

community tracing/contact tracing This is being able to find and identify people who may have had contact with an infectious person, and by doing this being able to control the spread of a disease that can be easily passed to another person. Singapore, unlike the US and much of Europe, started contact tracing early to stay ahead of community spread.

contact tracing This is a continuous process by which trained staff interview people who have been diagnosed with a contagious disease (in this case, COVID-19) to find out who they may have recently been in contact with. Then, they go and tell those people that they may have been exposed, sometimes encouraging them to quarantine themselves to prevent spreading the disease any further. Singapore’s extensive contact-tracing operation has helped it keep one step ahead of the virus, but how long can it be maintained?

contact tracing apps These are smartphone apps that use a Bluetooth wireless signal to exchange a "digital handshake". They are designed to automatically alert people to whether they are at high risk of having the virus, based on whether someone else they were recently near to has been diagnosed with it. They work by logging each time two people are within a certain distance of each other for longer than a specified amount of time. When one user registers themselves as being infected, a cascade of alerts is automatically sent out to everyone else they could have passed it on to - possibly advising them to go into quarantine and/or get tested themselves. A contact-tracing app could help stop the coronavirus pandemic, but 80% of current smartphone owners would need to use it, say experts advising the NHS.

contagion This is a noun to describe the spreading of a particular disease by someone touching another person who is already affected by the disease. The information surrounding contagion around COVID-19 is so dangerous, because there is so much that people don't know and so much happening all the time, that it is very easy for false rumours to take hold and spread. The threat of contagion can twist our psychological responses to ordinary interactions, leading us to behave in unexpected ways.

contagious An adjective to describe a situation with a disease that can be caught by touching people or things that are infected with it. See also infectiousThe CDC has guidelines on when people with COVID-19 can leave isolation. But there is limited data on how long people are contagious.

to contain here, to control a disease and prevent it from spreading or increasing. Doctors and detectives are racing to contain the coronavirus in Singapore.

to contract If you contract a serious illness, you become ill with it. Coronavirus: It was claimed that millions of Britons will need to contract COVID-19 for 'herd immunity'.

coronavirus Any one of a group of RNA-containing viruses that can cause infections to those internal parts of the body that affect breathing in mammals and birds. See COVID-19The new coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to nearly every country in the world since it first emerged in China at the beginning of the year.

COVID-19 You all know what this is by now, but basically this is a particular type of coronavirus. The name is an odd sort of acronym, in that it is formed from parts of two distinct words (COronaVIrus & Disease) and the latter portion of a date (the 19 from 2019). It is a word that most of the media (plus the WHO and Johns Hopkins University) use in upper-case lettering, although there does not appear to be any rules that state this can't be written as Covid-19.  Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus”) and the disease it causes.

death rate See Fatality Rate.

Diamond Princess A British-registered cruise ship owned and operated by Princess Cruises, where an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus occurred, resulting in the ship being quarantined for nearly a month with her passengers on board, and her passengers and crew were subject to further quarantine after disembarking. However, at least 712 out of the 3,711 passengers and crew were infected, and twelve have died. Hundreds of passengers who tested negative for the new coronavirus have begun leaving a quarantined cruise ship in Japan amid heavy criticism over the country's handling of the outbreakOne Japanese health expert who visited the Diamond Princess at the port in Yokohama said the situation on board was "completely chaotic".

Domiciliary carer A care worker whose job is to see patients who still live in their own homes but require additional support with activities, including household tasks, personal care and any other activity that allows them to maintain both their independence and quality of life. Domiciliary carers are also considered at risk from COVID-19Domiciliary carers "were putting their lives on the line" and it was "ridiculous", said the firm's boss.

epidemic A particular disease in a particular place or area that affects a very large number of people there and spreads quickly to other areas. See also pandemicPoland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Friday the government has announced a statewide epidemic.

fake news See false information.

false information The passing of information that claims to be true even though there is no evidence to support the idea that it is really true. See also infodemicGroups on Facebook are spreading false information over 5G health fears. One theory claims that coronavirus has spread to cities using 5G. What isn't mentioned is that a highly contagious virus would naturally spread more in densely populated cities and that the pandemic has hit countries like Iran and Japan where 5G isn’t in use yet. There is no scientific evidence that links the coronavirus pandemic to 5G, nor any immediate negative health effects to 5G.

Fatality Rate (case fatality rate/ratio or CFR, also known as death rate, mortality rate) describes how many people doctors can be sure are killed by the infection, in this case COVID-19To understand this, consider 100 people who have been infected with COVID-19. Ten of them have it so severely that they go into hospital, where they test positive for the disease. The other 90 are not tested at all. One of the hospital patients then dies from the virus. The other 99 people survive. That would give a case fatality rate of one in 10, or 10%. But the infection fatality rate would be just one in 100, or 1%. The case fatality rate (CFR) – the ratio between confirmed deaths and cases – is widely discussed, but during the outbreak of a pandemic with large unknowns it is important to know what can and cannot be said based on currently available statistics.

fomite Until the arrival of the coronavirus, this was a rare and little-used word meaning something, such as a dish or door handle, that may be contaminated with infectious organisms (COVID-19) and so be passed onto people. "I think the movie highlighted various 'touch points' which can serve as fomites — for example, a touch screen for orders in a restaurant, which was touched by Paltrow's server after handling Paltrow's credit card, and an elementary school door touched by Paltrow's son."

front line A adjective and noun phrase used to describe a situation where someone or something is working or being used in a direct situation where there is a strong possibility of danger. In the context of the coronavirus, this mainly refers to workers who care directly exposed to the possibility of infection unless they wear some form of PPEIt is "critical" personal protective equipment gets to front line NHS staff so they can follow the best possible guidance on its use, a senior official has said. Care workers at nursing homes and even shop assistants that deal directly with the public are putting themselves on the front line.

furlough/to furlough Furloughing is designed to support firms that have been badly hit by the coronavirus, and to prevent mass unemployment. It will temporarily help pay the wages of people who can't do their jobs, and to help companies keep them even if they are closed. Being furloughed means employees are kept on the payroll, even though they aren't working. Debbie Rice started a new administrative job on 3 March, but the company then began furloughing staff. She said: "My current employer felt guilty they couldn't pay me or give me the 80% furlough. I was the only person who was a new starter, so I was the only one who didn't qualify to be furloughed."

group immunity See herd immunity.

health care assistant See care worker.

herd immunity  This is the indirect protection from a contagious infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through a previous infection. This means that even people who aren’t vaccinated are protected because people around them who are immune can act as buffers between them and an infected person. The Dutch are among the few openly embracing the contentious idea of group or herd immunity

home office See remote working.

to hunker down here, to stay in a place for a period of time. Americans should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine A medication used to prevent and treat malaria, and in some medical circles is believed to help work against coronavirusIndia will release "appropriate quantities" of hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol, according to reports citing the Ministry of External Affairs. On Monday, Donald Trump said the US could "retaliate" if India didn't release stocks of the drug, which he has called a "game-changer" in the fight against COVID-19.

ICU Acronym for Intensive Care Unit. These are specialist wards (rooms in a hospital which has beds for many people, often people who need similar treatment) that are set up to provide treatment and close monitoring for patients who are too seriously ill to be cared for in other parts of the hospital. They have fewer patients and more staffing to provide one-on-one care when it's needed, and they are also kitted out with sophisticated monitoring equipment. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU) at St Thomas' hospital in London, after his condition worsened. The 55-year-old, who caught the virus more than a week ago, will now be closer to a ventilator - which takes over the body's breathing process. However, he is not currently known to be on one.

immune system Your immune system consists of all the organs and processes in your body which protect you from illness and infection. The trainee healthcare support worker now hopes people struggling with staying at home, self-isolating or social distancing will think they can help stop people like William dying."We all need to realise by staying in we are helping other people. Maybe some of us have a good immune system and we're healthy and fit but other people are not so lucky."

immunity the ability to resist disease, either through the activities of specialized blood cells or antibodies produced by them in response to natural exposure or inoculation. Can you be re-infected after recovering from Coronavirus? Here's what we know about COVID-19 immunity.

index case This has many meanings, but all can be connected to the coronavirus situation. This can mean the first recorded case of an infectious disease in a population, region, or family; it can refer to someone who has a disease and is the first one identified in a population. There is also index patient/patient zero, which is a person identified as the first to become infected with an illness or disease in an outbreak, and is especially used to refer to a person documented as being the first known case of a communicable disease in a particular population or region. Chinese authorities and experts are at odds about the origin of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. More specifically, who is "patient zero" for the outbreak. Also known as an index case, patient zero is a term used to describe the first human infected by a viral or bacterial disease in an outbreak

index patient See index case.

infection/infectious This is a disease that can be caught by being near a person who has it. See also contagiousHoward Catton has shared with BBC World News viewers his growing concern about the rise of coronavirus infections amongst nurses and other health workers.

infodemic Here, a situation when there is too much information concerning a problem, the result being that the solution is made more difficult. Often, much of this information (usually found on the internet) is from unreliable sources, but people do believe them and go against official advice. See also false information. The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging tech companies to take tougher action to battle fake news on the coronavirus. The push comes as a representative from the WHO travelled to Silicon Valley to speak directly to tech firms about the spread of false informationThe WHO has labelled the spread of fake news on the outbreak an "infodemic". 

isolation Here, the state of being alone and without friends or help. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, is out of isolation and in good health after contracting coronavirus.

Johns Hopkins University This is a private research university in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1876, the university was named for its first benefactor, the American entrepreneur, abolitionist, and philanthropist Johns Hopkins. As experts in global public health, infectious disease, and emergency preparedness, the university has become the main global resource centre and at the forefront of the international response to COVID-19More than a million cases of coronavirus have been registered globally, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.  Although the total number kept by Johns Hopkins records one million confirmed cases, the actual number is thought to be much higher.

Boris Johnson UK prime minister since 2019, one of many high-profile world leaders to come down with the coronavirusThe main story across all of the papers is Boris Johnson's move to intensive care late on Monday evening. In the words of the Daily Mail, the drastic step was taken because the stricken prime minister was struggling to breathe. According to the Daily Mirror, there are concerns that he could have pneumonia.

Li Wenliang The Chinese ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in diseases and problems affecting people's eyes) at Wuhan Central Hospital. On 30 December he sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them about the outbreak and advising they wear protective clothing to avoid infection. What Dr Li didn't know then was that the disease that had been discovered was an entirely new coronavirus. He died from the COVID-19 coronavirus on February 7, 2020. Dr Li tried to send a message to fellow medics about the outbreak at the end of December, but three days later police paid him a visit and told him to stop. He returned to work and caught the virus from a patient.

lockdown  A situation where nobody is allowed to enter or leave a building or even a town or city because of a dangerous situation, i.e. COVID-19Police face "one of their biggest challenges" of the coronavirus lockdown as the weather improves.

lockdown measures Rules and laws to enforce a lockdownThe lockdown measures, despite being widely approved by public opinion, were also described as the largest suppression of constitutional rights in the history of the republic.

mortality rate See fatality rate.

NHS Initialism for National Health Service, the state system for providing medical care in the UK. The NHS is braced for a surge in coronavirus cases. Experts are predicting they will soon start rising rapidly before the impact of restrictions on everyday life kicks in and starts, with luck, to suppress the outbreak. So what has been happening and will the NHS be able to cope?

outbreak Here, when a disease suddenly starts to happen, when an infectious disease is passing easily from person to person in many parts of the world at the same time. The outbreak was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March. The WHO said it took more than three months to reach the first 100,000 confirmed cases worldwide, but it took less than a week for the number to double from 500,000 to a million.

pandemic A disease that affects many people over a very wide area. The last time a pandemic occurred was in 2009 with swine flu, which experts think killed hundreds of thousands of people. See also epidemic. Pandemics are more likely if a virus is brand new, able to infect people easily and can spread from person-to-person. Coronavirus appears to be this, and was declared a global pandemic. With no vaccine or treatment that can prevent it yet, containing its spread is vital.

patient zero See index case

pneumonia This is a serious disease which affects your lungs and makes it difficult for you to breathe. Pneumonia can be as a result of catching COVID-19Karen tested positive for COVID-19. She had pneumonia in both of her lungs and was isolated in a hospital room for a week.

PPE Abbreviation for Personal Protection Equipment, which includes protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection. “We have got a problem with the supply of personal protective equipment, that has meant that people have been reusing personal protective equipment for too long. PPE is not only important in hospitals but for aged care, nursing homes and social care. We are talking about prioritizing the use and supply of PPE as well. We need manufacturers to step up and increase the supply." 

R0 (R-nought or r-zero) See transmission rate.

remote working This is a working style that allows people to work outside of a traditional office environment, often working from home or from some other place such as a co-working office. The idea of remote working has recently become either very popular or necessary because of the need for social distancing because of the coronavirus. This is also known as a home office, with the meaning 'an office in someone's home, or a room in a home with a phone, computer, etc. in it', although this term is perhaps more common in American English, as 'home office' in British English is a government department. Many people are working from home for the first time since governments have called for remote working to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Teams that traditionally meet in the office are turning to video software instead such as ZOOM.

to be in quarantine to be kept separate from other people or animals for a set period of time, usually because they have or may have a disease. See also to be quarantined, social distanceTo stop the spread of the coronavirus, health officials tell people that, after being in a city or region where there have been a lot of COVID-19 cases, to spend 14 days in quarantine even if you feel perfectly fine — don't leave your house.

to be quarantined to be stopped from having contact with other people (or animals). If a place is quarantined, people and animals are prevented from entering or leaving it. See also to be in quarantine, social distance.  US officials have arranged for sailors from a virus-stricken aircraft carrier to be quarantined in Guam, where the ship has been docked since Friday. Guam’s governor said those without the virus would be moved to hotels or quarantined at a naval base. At least 100 people aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the disease, reports say. Earlier this week the ship’s captain pleaded for most of his crew to be quarantined so deaths could be avoided.

SARS This is a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-related species of coronavirus that infects humans, bats and certain other mammals. Two strains of the virus have caused outbreaks of severe respiratory diseases in humans, one which caused the 2002-2004 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the current 2019–20 pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The SARS-related coronavirus was one of several viruses identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016 as a likely cause of a future epidemic in a new plan developed for urgent research and development. The prediction came to pass with the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemicThe number of coronavirus cases worldwide has overtaken that of the Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003.

SARS-CoV-2 The short form of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome COronaVirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2), the virus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory illness responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. It had had other names: 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), and human coronavirus 2019 (HCoV-19 or hCoV-19). It is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus that is contagious in humans, and had been described by the US National Institutes of Health as the successor to SARS-CoV-1, the virus that caused the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak. The disease is believed to be similar to bat coronaviruses, suggesting that it came from a bat-borne virus. At the end of 2019, a novel coronavirus designated as SARS-CoV-2 emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, and caused an outbreak of unusual viral pneumonia.

self-isolation/self-isolating Here, making a personal choice to be alone and without friends within the same room or household, or being a necessary decision usually because of having a possible infectious disease. If you are self-isolating, you must not leave your home for any reason, other than to exercise once a day – but stay at least 2 metres (3 steps) away from other people. You must not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home. You must not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home. You can use your garden, if you have one.

self-quarantine Here, making the necessary decision to keep separate from other people or animals for a set period of time within their home, usually because they have, may have, or are showing symptoms of a disease. As new COVID-19 cases continue to emerge in the WHO European Region, many healthy individuals are being requested to stay at home in self-quarantine.


shielding  A practice used to protect extremely vulnerable people from coming into contact with coronavirus. People are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day they receive a letter informing them that this is necessary, or in other words, to shield themselves from any possibility of contracting COVID-19. See also social distanceTexts and letters arrived this week telling more than a million people in the UK to endure an extreme form of isolation for at least 12 weeks to “shield” them from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak. These “extremely vulnerable groups” include organ transplant recipients, some cancer patients, people with severe lung conditions, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women with heart conditions.

social distance/social distancing In this context, this is to avoid close contact with other people during the outbreak of a contagious disease. This is to minimize exposure and reduce the passing on of infection to other people. See also shieldingWe are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. This group includes those who are:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)

  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):

  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis

  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure

  • chronic kidney disease

  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis

  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy

  • diabetes

  • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed

  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy

  • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)

  • those who are pregnant

super spreader Here, an individual who is highly contagious and is capable of passing on a communicable disease (COVID-19) to an unusually large number of people who are uninfected. The term for the spread of disease by super-spreaders is super-spreadingIndia has quarantined 15,000 people after a 'super-spreader' dies of the virus. The religious leader died of COVID-19 after preaching in over a dozen villages in the Punjab state, prompting strict restrictions.

transmission rate (R0) - this is the number of newly infected people from a particular individual with COVID-19. (Ro, pronounced R-nought or r-zero), represents the average number of people to which a single infected person will transmit the virus. An outbreak with a reproductive number of below 1 will gradually disappear. For comparison, the R0 for the common flu is 1.3 and for SARS it was 2.0. In the government’s latest coronavirus briefing, Steve Powis from NHS England has said there was early academic evidence that showed the "transmission rate may have fallen below one". However, he said this would take time to "translate into changes" and said everyone should continue complying with measures.

underlying health condition This is a chronic or long-term illness, which in turn weakens the immune system. It is a medical problem that usually requires long-term treatment. As it weakens the immune system, it puts people at greater risk of serious complications of infectious illness - and with coronavirus spreading, those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk. Underlying health conditions also play a role, regardless of age. For example, there are about 4.3 million adults in the UK who have asthma, which puts you at higher risk of severe illness if you contract coronavirus - and this affects people of all ages.

vaccine A substance containing a harmless form of the germs that cause a particular disease. It is given to people, usually by injection, to prevent them getting that disease. Coronavirus is spreading around the world, but there are still no drugs that can kill the virus or vaccines that can protect against it.

ventilator This is a machine that helps people breathe when they cannot breathe naturally, for example, because they are very ill or have been seriously injured. The UK may not have all the ventilators it needs by the time coronavirus cases in the country reach their peak, engineering firms warned. The UK has just over 8,000 ventilators, significantly fewer than the 30,000 the government estimates are needed to cope when the disease peaks. Manufacturers told the BBC they cannot produce enough to meet that deadline.

virus A non-living organism that is spread by the host it infects. So in summary: An organism is a very, very, small living thing. A germ is an organism that causes illness; bacteria(s) is/are (your choice) organisms that can be both helpful and harmful and is a more scientific word than germ; a virus is a non-living organism that is spread by the host it infects.

WHO (World Health Organisation) The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. The coronavirus outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Wuhan The capital city of Hubei province in the People's Republic of China, with a population of over 11 million and the ninth most populous Chinese city. It is here that the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 was first noted by Doctor Li Wenliang at Wuhan Central Hospital on 30 December 2019. The city of Wuhan, which was subjected to the most aggressive quarantine in China after the coronavirus first emerged there late last year, is slowly returning to normal with the lockdown imposed at the end of January expected to be completely lifted on April 8.


ZOOM This is a video conferencing app that has become very popular with millions of people for remote working and leisure after lockdowns and social distancing restrictions were imposed in many countries. But its increase in popularity has led to criticisms as regards its security. The videoconferencing app ZOOM has come under fresh high-level scrutiny as its popularity soars during the coronavirus pandemic. Zoom boss Eric Yuan spoke candidly about how "usage of Zoom ballooned overnight", and has apologised for security issues and promises fixes.

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