A viral message claiming Japanese Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo declared that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 is man-made is false. Honjo has not made any statements about the origin of coronavirus.
The message also claims that Honjo worked with the Wuhan laboratory for four years. BOOM looked through Honjo's profiles on the Nobel site as well as the Kyoto University website. The Nobel laureate's profile does not mention the professor ever collaborating with the Wuhan laboratory.
Furthermore, international publications like the Nature and the Lancet have published epidemiological studies which have researched the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 and have found that the virus is not man-made but has a natural origin.
The claim is circulating on all social media platforms in various languages. BOOM has received the claim in both English and Hindi. The claim discusses that Nobel Laureate Tasuku Honjo announced to the media that the coronavirus is not a natural virus. The claim also further states that if the virus was natural it would have only spread to specific areas and states how varying temperatures of different countries could not contain the spread of the virus.
BOOM received the message on its WhatsApp helpline requesting the verification of the same.
The claim is also viral on Twitter with a Hindi caption and an image.
BOOM accessed the Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo's last few interviews wherein during an interview with Nikkei News, the 2018 Nobel laureate encouraged Japanese authorities to adopt a more proactive approach in containing the spread of the virus.
He explained that several countries, including Italy, the UK, and the US, delayed their responses because they placed too much emphasis on the economy rather than controlling the spread. He also requested Japan to follow Taiwan's orders of mask rationing system as well as virtual learning platforms and said both could effectively prevent the worsening of Japan's pandemic in the interview. Read Honjo's recent interview here.
BOOM visited the Nobel laureate's profile on the Nobel Prize winning website and the Kyoto University website to understand if he had ever collaborated with the Wuhan laboratory. However, there is no mention of Honjo working or collaborating with the Wuhan laboratory.
BOOM wrote to Honjo as well as Kyoto University. The University refuted this claim and shared Honjo's official statement. "At this stage, when all of our energies are needed to treat the ill, prevent the further spread of sorrow, and plan for a new beginning, the broadcasting of unsubstantiated claims regarding the origins of the disease is dangerously distracting," said Honjo.
Honjo said that he was deeply saddened that his as well as the University's name was used to spread misinformation.
Honjo won the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his contribution to the project for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.
There is no evidence supporting the claim that Honjo made any statements relating to the origin of the COVID-19.
However, another French Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier in an interview did claim that the coronavirus seems to have originated from a laboratory.
How Did The Novel Coronavirus Originate?
Many publications such as Lancet and Nature have published studies discussing the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 which has found that it has originated from an animal source and in the wild. There is no study that discusses that the virus has been created in the laboratory.
The study published in Nature discusses that the SARS-CoV-2 is 96% genomically similar to the bat coronavirus and share 79.6% sequence identity to SARS-CoV. While, the study in Lancet has scientists across the world supporting the studies that say that the virus is not man-made but originated from an animal.
BOOM also contacted Dr Sandhya Koushika, one of the conveners of the Indian Scientists Response to COVID-19 which is a group of over 400 Indian scientists to tackle COVID-19 in order to understand the origin of the virus.
Dr Koushika stated that the SARS-CoV-2 is a beta-corona virus that is also similar to other family members. The short sequences in the Spike protein that some have claimed may come from HIV are in fact very short and will be found in a variety of organisms. Bats are known to have large reservoirs of viruses of many types and the SARS-CoV-2 sequence suggests that there is some similarity to bats and pangolin corona virus sequences. This suggests a zoonotic origin and a jump to humans from an animal host.
BOOM has earlier debunked claims suggesting that the virus is a bioweapon and has been already patented. Currently, COVID-19 has over 2.9 million cases of the world. Follow BOOM's live updates about the virus here: Coronavirus LIVE Update: India Reports 26,916 Cases, 826 Deaths
(This story has been updated with Kyoto University's official statement refuting the claim)
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