Fact Check: Did Japan's Nobel laureate professor say COVID-19 is man-made virus?
Hyderabad: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a statement claimed to be from a Nobel-laureate Japanese professor has been doing the rounds on social media. The message, which has been going viral over social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, quotes the 2018 Nobel Laureate and Japanese professor Tasuku Honjo, saying that "COVID-19 is not natural."
The message says, "Japan's professor of Physiology or Medicine, Professor Dr Tasuku Honjo, created a sensation in front of the media today by saying that the corona virus is not natural. If it is natural, it wouldn't have adversely affected entire world like this. bcoz, as per nature, Temperature is different in different countries. if it is natural, it wud've adversely affected only those countries hvg same temperature as China. instead, It is spreading in a country like Switzerland, in the same way it is spreading in the desert areas. whereas if it were natural, it would hv spread in cold places, but died in hot places. I have done 40 years of research on animals and viruses. It is not natural. It is manufactured and the virus is completely artificial. I have worked for 4 years in the Wuhan laboratory of China. I am fully acquainted w/all the staff of that laboratory. I have been phoning them all, after the Corona accident. But, all their phones r dead for last 3 months. It is now u/stood that all these lab technicians have died.
Based on all my knowledge and research till date, I can say this with 100% confidence that Corona is not natural. It has not come from bats. China has manufactured it. if what I am saying today is proved false now or even after my death, the government can w/draw my Nobel Prize. but China is lying and this truth will one day be revealed to everyone."
This message has been spreading on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
An archived version of this tweet, can be found here.
An archive version of the same claim shared on Facebook can be found here.
Fact Check conducted by NewsMeter showed that the above claims are FALSE. In context, Tasuku Honjo, is a Nobel-prize winning Japanese professor from Kyoto University, Japan. He won the Nobel prize for medicine in the year 2018, along with James Allison, for their discovery on cancer therapy. When NewsMeter reached out to the professor, he refuted all the claims. In an e-mail, Alok Kumar, a Ph.D student working under the professor, gave out this statement on behalf of the professor that "Prof. Honjo never gave any such statement. Each and every sentence of this post is completely false and has no connection with truth. Prof. Honjo never worked in Wuhan laboratory. He never called there. He did not work on virus origin and functions and other related issues. All the contents are just concocted and nothing else."
As claimed in the viral message, Professor Tasuku Honjo has not worked in any laboratory in Wuhan, China, for the past four years. His biography, accessed from Kyoto University's official website, showed that the professor has been teaching full-time in Japan's Kyoto University, from 1984 to 2005. Currently, he is a professor at the Department of Immunology and Genomic Medicine, Kyoto University.
In addition to this, Kyoto University on April 27, clarified that the name of Prof. Tasuku Honjo and the university "have been used to spread false accusations and misinformation."
Secondly, a Google search on media reports after April 22 (the date of the message) regarding the statement 'coronavirus is not natural' did not yield any results leading to professor Tasuku Hanjo. In fact, the professor had given an interview to Nikkei Asian Review, a news portal based in Japan, published on April 10, 2020. The professor said in the interview that "the illness originated in China, but the country will be the first to recover from it, too. I can't say whether this will boost Chinese influence or whether the world will shun China, but there's a possibility that the global order will shift after the outbreak." The professor has not mentioned anything regarding COVID-19 being a man-made virus.
However, there are media reports of a Nobel laureate French virologist claiming that the virus is man-made. "Interviewed on a French news channel, the co-discoverer of the AIDS virus who bagged the 2008 Nobel award in medicine alleged "the presence of elements of HIV and germ of malaria in the genome of coronavirus is highly suspect and the characteristics of the virus could not have arisen naturally," the Times of India reported.
Thirdly, a Twitter search of Prof. Tasuku Honjo's account led to a tweet that said, "I do not know for what purpose the coronavirus has been produced, but I can definitely say that it is man-made." The Twitter handle claims to be of Tasuku Honjo, but however it has not been verified. A statement from Prof. Honjo confirmed that "The twitter handle you mentioned does not belong to Prof. Tasuku Honjo. it is created by someone possibly with malicious intentions. Please stop this fake news." Further searches also found that the account was created in April 2020, with only two tweets since April 24, which suggests that it is a fake account.
Therefore, the viral claim of the Japanese professor saying 'COVID-19 is not natural' is FALSE.
Claim 1: Japanese professor Tasuku Honjo says COVID-19 is "manufactured and the virus is completely artificial"
Claim 2: Japanese Professor has spent 4 years in Wuhan Lab.
Claimed by: Social media posts
Result: Both the claims are FALSE, since Prof. Honjo has refuted the claims himself. There are no media reports on Prof. Tasuku Honjo saying that COVID-19 is manufactured. Further, the professor has not spent four years in Wuhan's laboratory, as his biography shows. The Twitter handle that claims to be his is fake.