In February this year, a WHO team looking into the origins of COVID-19 had dismissed the possibility of a 'lab leak' in Wuhan, leading to the spread of the virus. The report determined that the possibility the virus came from a lab was "extremely unlikely," noting there was "no record" of any lab having closely related viruses. Months later, the theory was back under the spotlight, as a series of revelations shook things up.
China however is undaunted. While officials continue to deny the allegations, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian went a step further last week, suggesting that the team be awarded a Noble Prize. According to reports, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has also nominated the Wuhan Institute of Virology for its 2021 Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Prize.
"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. By analogy, the team in Wuhan should be awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their research on COVID-19, instead of being criticized," the Chinese government website quoted Zhao Lijian as saying.
Since then, the call has been amplified by Chinese state media and others online.
Needless to say, the remarks have also invited criticism from several quarters. Over the last few days, search phrases related to Wuhan and the lab leak theory have become trending topics on social media platforms.
"We must admit, the work of the Wuhan Institute of Virology really has touched all of our lives, hasn’t it?" remarked one Twitter user.
"They never fail to surprise me. I want this level of confidence in my life too," said another.
Closer to home, the remarks also became part of an Opposition attack on the Narendra Modi-led government. "Who knows, there may be a Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to the Modi government," jibed former Union Minister P Chidambaram.