India Minister Pushes Theory Coronavirus Was Created in a Lab: 'This is Not a Natural Virus'

An Indian cabinet minister has claimed, without providing any evidence, that COVID-19 coronavirus is man made, a conspiracy theory that has been widely dismissed by experts around the world and by the Chinese government.

Nitin Gadkari, who serves as President Narendra Modi's minister of road transport and highways, told the NDTV channel Wednesday that the virus was made in a laboratory.

China critics have cast doubt on Beijing's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of covering up initial warnings from the city of Wuhan, underreporting its number of infected and dead, and pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) not to declare a global health emergency.

Some, including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have claimed that the COVID-19 strain escaped from a Wuhan laboratory.

Neither has presented evidence to support the assertion, and the WHO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and various American allies have all cast doubt on the theory.

Pompeo suggested earlier this month that the virus is manmade before seemingly walking back the claim, and U.S. intelligence and health experts all agree the virus is overwhelmingly likely to be naturally-occurring.

As revealed last month by Newsweek, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency updated its assessment of coronavirus' origins in March to include the possibility that it may have been accidentally released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, rather than the dominant explanation that the virus originated in a wildlife market in the city.

Every scientist that Newsweek spoke to regarding the DIA report categorically rejected any suggestion that the virus was intentionally released. The DIA report—which has since been supported by other studies—said officials had "no credible evidence to indicate SARS-CoV-2 was released intentionally or was created as a biological weapon."

Nonetheless, Gadkari, a former president of Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, told NDTV, "We need to understand the art of living with corona. That art of living is very important as it is not a natural virus. It is an artificial virus and many countries across the world are researching for a vaccine."

"The second thing is detection methodology," Gadkari added. "We need some good methodology. Immediately, we can identify [the virus]. This is unexpected because this a virus from a laboratory, this is not a natural virus."

Modi and his cabinet have been largely quiet on the origins and course of coronavirus, instead focusing on trying to stem the virus' spread in India. Modi's national lockdown, which he said this week will be extended when it expires on May 18, has caused serious economic dislocation in a country where more than 300 million people still live in poverty and tens of millions are casual workers.

When the country went into lockdown in late March, huge numbers of casually employed Indians left major cities and headed for their home villages, either on foot or aboard packed public transport. Chaotic scenes in and outside cities like Delhi prompted fears that the virus could spread unchecked through traveling workers and back to their rural homes.

There have been 78,810 confirmed coronavirus cases in India and 2,564 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the country's thinly-stretched medical system and low level of testing suggests the true infections and death tolls are likely much higher than reported.

Nonetheless, Gadkari said he was confident that both the world and India are well-prepared to meet the challenge. "I feel that as early as possible, we will get the alternative solution for all these things and that will resolve the problem," he said.

This article has been updated to include additional context about U.S. intelligence investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Nitin Gadkari, India, lab, conspiracy theory, coronavirus
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and transport minister Nitin Gadkari are pictured during a parliamentary committee meeting at Parliament in New Delhi, India on February 4, 2020. PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images/Getty