VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Japanese Nobel laureate DID NOT say coronavirus was made in Wuhan lab

A Facebook (FB) post quoting Nobel Prize winner and esteemed Japanese immunologist Tasuku Honjo as saying that the virus behind COVID-19 is “completely artificial” and was manufactured in China, is a sham.

Honjo, who won the Nobel award in 2018 for his work on cancer research, disproved this in an April 27 statement published by his home institute Kyoto University. He said his and his institution’s names are being used “to spread false accusations and misinformation.”

Warning of misinformation amid the current pandemic, which has affected over three million people worldwide and killed more than 211,000, Honjo said: “The broadcasting of unsubstantiated claims regarding the origins of the disease is dangerously distracting.”

The fake social media post says Honjo “created a sensation” with the claim, but there are no news reports of him saying such a thing. In his most recent media engagements with The Mainichi and Nikkei Asian Review, no such claim was made either.

VERA Files Fact Check has flagged at least seven netizens and one FB page — the verified account of a former government official of Nigeria — posting the fabricated status update on April 25. The earliest emergence online of the erroneous claim that the virus came from a lab could be traced back to an April 4 comment in a forum on academic social networking site ResearchGate.

The fabricated post also claimed Honjo worked four years in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where cases of COVID-19 first emerged. However, his profile on the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine website shows no such record.

The fake post surfaced on public social media pages about a week after another Nobel prize winner, French virologist Luc Montagnier, claimed April 17 in a media interview that the novel coronavirus was “created in a laboratory.” The same day, the office of French president Emmanuel Macron said there is no evidence so far of a link between a Wuhan laboratory and the origins of COVID-19.

The posts bearing Honjo’s fake quote have an accumulated 14,100 reactions, 1,800 comments, and 13,000 shares from netizens.

(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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