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Debunked: No, a Japanese Nobel Prize winner did not say the coronavirus was man-made

He did not say anything of the sort.

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A VIRAL POST being shared on WhatsApp and Facebook quoting a Japanese Nobel Prize winner claiming that Covid-19 is unnatural and man-made is fake. 

The message shared thousands of times across the social media platforms quotes Professor Tasuku Honjo of the Kyoto University Institute of Advanced Study as saying the disease was manufactured by China. 

Below is the message which is being sent around: 

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It reads:

Japan’s Nobel prize winning Professor of Medicine, Professor Dr Tasuku Honjo, created a sensation today by saying that the coronavirus is not natural. “If it is natural, it wouldn’t have adversely affected the entire world like this. Because, as per nature, temperature is different in different countries. If it is natural, it would adversely affect only those countries having the 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.

It says that Professor Honjo has done 40 years of research on animals and viruses and believes that the coronavirus “is not natural. It is manufactured and the virus is completely artificial”. 

I have worked for 4 years in the Wuhan laboratory in China. I am fully acquainted with all the staff of that laboratory. I have been phoning them all, after the Coronavirus surfaced. But all their phones are dead for the last 3 months. It is now understood that all these lab technicians have died.
Based on all my knowledge and research till date, I can say this with 100% confidence -that the coronavirus is not natural. It did not come from bats. China manufactured it. If what I am saying today is proved false now or even after my death, the government can withdraw my Nobel Prize. China is lying and this truth will one day be revealed to everyone.

As well as being shared widely, it has also been promoted by a number of high-profile people. UK businessman Alan Sugar tweeted the inaccurate information this afternoon.

Screen Shot 2020-04-30 at 16.34.15 Source: Twitter

Professor Tasuku Honjo, who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine, did not say this. In fact, it is unclear where the message comes from. 

A spokesperson for Kyoto University, where Professor Honjo is a researcher in molecular immunology, told a factchecking organisation in Australia that the professor had not said any of the things in this message. 

A statement from Professor Honjo posted to the Kyoto University website describes the message as “spreading false accusations and misinformation”. 

The statement says: “In the wake of the pain, economic loss, and unprecedented global suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am greatly saddened that my name and that of Kyoto University have been used to spread false accusations and misinformation”. 

The false message says that Profesor Hunjo worked for four years in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where Covid-19 was first discovered. 

However, a biography of Professor Honjo on the website of Kyoto University says that he has only worked in Japan and the United States. 

It is unclear where the text in the message comes from. A Twitter account which purported to belong to the professor and which expressed similar sentiments has now been deleted.

It had only been created on 23 April, according to Snopes, which is when the message began going viral. 

Screen Shot 2020-04-30 at 16.12.46 Source: Twitter

Despite the message being completely false, the claim has continued to circulate. 

The statement released on behalf of Professor Honjoy ended by calling on people to work together on combatting Covid-19 rather than sharing false news stories: 

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“This is a time for all of us, especially those of us devoting our careers to the forefronts of scientific research, to work together to fight this common enemy. We cannot delay one moment in this effort to save the lives of our fellow humans. 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.”

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.

STOP, THINK AND CHECK

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere.

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate.

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie   

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