Last week the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) —the Chinese virology lab that is suspected by some to be the source of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak — is one of the candidates for its Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Prize. After the announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian went a step further and called for the WIV to receive one of the top awards in medical research, the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
In a Thursday press conference, Zhao criticized growing international scrutiny of the WIV and compared the WIV’s sequencing of COVID-19 to the effort to sequence human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus behind the AIDS epidemic.
“The genome sequence of COVID-19 was first identified by Chinese scientists, but that does not mean Wuhan is the source of the coronavirus, nor can it be inferred that the coronavirus was made by Chinese scientists,” Zhao said. “If those that first publish high-quality viral genomes were to be accused of making the virus, then professor Luc Montagnier, who first discovered Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) would be considered the culprit of AIDS rather than awarded the Nobel Prize, and Mr. Louis Pasteur, who discovered microbes, would be held accountable for the disease-causing bacteria all around the globe.”
In 2008, Montagnier received the Nobel Prize in recognition of his 1982 discovery of HIV.
Zhao said, “By analogy, the team in Wuhan should be awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their research on COVID-19, instead of being criticized.”
Zhao’s comments come as the evidence has mounted that COVID-19 may have leaked from the WIV weeks before the virus was fully disclosed by China to the public. In January, the State Department under President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a fact-sheet noting the WIV had conducted experiments on bat coronaviruses including a strain with a 96.2% genetic similarity to SARS-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.
In May, the Wall Street Journal reported, based on previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence, that three researchers at the WIV became sick enough in November 2019 to seek hospitalization with “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
In May, President Joe Biden also announced he had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to redouble their efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19, including the theory that the illness may have originated from an outbreak at the WIV.
Zhao has shared his own controversial claims about the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus over the past year. In March 2020, near the height of the global coronavirus outbreak, Zhao alleged without evidence that “it might be the US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”
Since then, Zhao and other Chinese officials have expanded on the allegation the virus was first spread by the U.S. Army, positing that Fort Detrick, which is home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, may have been the origin point of COVID-19.
In his Thursday remarks, Zhao said, “If the US is truly transparent and responsible, it should be as open as China and immediately invite international experts to Fort Detrick and other places in the US to conduct a detailed investigation.”