These remarks were made by Zhao Lijian, foreign ministry spokesman and deputy director of the information department, during a press conference on June 17. As part of the press conference, Zhao also criticized the lab leak theory, saying that just because the virus was first found in Wuhan, it doesn't mean it originated from there. (Related: "Fauci emails reveal: The 'natural origin theory' was coordinated propaganda, crafted by the very scientists who engineered the virus.)
"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," said Zhao.
He then said that the team of scientists in Wuhan "should be awarded the Nobel Prize [for] medicine for their research on COVID-19, instead of being criticized."
In a tweet, Zhao added: "Origin-tracing is about rigorous scientific research, not far-fetched connections. Prof. Luc Montagnier was awarded Nobel Prize for discovery of HIV; Mr. Louis Pasteur was honored for finding of microbes; WIV deserves Nobel Prize, not criticism, for its study of COVID-19."
Zhao made these comments after the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) nominated the WIV for its Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Prize for the institute's work on COVID-19. The CAS is the parent institution of the WIV.
According to the state-owned Global Times, two WIV researchers were singled out for their outstanding contributions. These are Yuan Zhiming, director of the WIV's Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, and Shi Zhengli, known as the "batwoman" for her extensive research into bat-borne coronaviruses.
Shi was recently interviewed by mainstream media outlet the New York Times. In the interview, she angrily denied that her lab engineered the coronavirus. The New York Times, which decried the lab leak theory as a "crackpot fringe theory" at the beginning of the pandemic, noted that "China's habitual secrecy makes her claims hard to validate."
The Global Times seized on this interview, and asked Zhao to comment. Zhao then admitted that the scientists in the WIV "were the earliest to discover the gene sequence of novel coronavirus."
Chinese state-owned media outlets like the Global Times have praised Zhao for nominating the WIV and eagerly amplified his call for the institute to receive the Nobel Prize. The Global Times also called the lab leak origin theory "slander."
This attitude by the Global Times and other state-owned media outlets has received a lot of condemnation.
"The fact that the Chinese government insists the Wuhan Institute of Virology deserves celebration is another indicator that it intends to change nothing in the aftermath of the pandemic," wrote Jim Geraghty, senior political correspondent of the National Review.
Jazz Shaw, an editor for HotAir, said the thought of the WIV receiving a Nobel Prize in Medicine was a "bad joke."
"The ongoing research into the original source of the virus has made it so obvious that the original explanation was flawed that even the [National Institutes of Health], the [World Health Organization] and Dr. Fauci have been forced to admit that the laboratory origin theory is at least worth studying," said Shaw.
"Add to that the fact that no one has yet found a single bat carrying a virus that's a match for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. China's protestations in this matter are looking increasingly pathetic."
Learn more about the lab leak theory and how China is attempting to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.