Governments go on binge proposing labs for deadly pathogen research

Lab worker at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China (Video screenshot)
Lab worker at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China (Video screenshot)

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A new report from Nature warns that there is a surge right now in governments planning laboratories that handle “dangerous pathogens.”

It’s an issue because COVID-19 is suspected by many experts of somehow coming out of a Wuhan, China, lab that handled bat viruses, and worked on projects on how to make them more deadly.

That virus circled the globe, destroying entire economies and killing millions.

The Nature report documented that in the wake of the pandemic, “plans are afoot to build more than 40 high-level biosafety laboratories around the world, including in India, the Philippines and Singapore.”

That now has some concerned about the large number of places that will be dealing with some of the world’s worst pathogens.

And then there are the costs of maintaining high level biosafety procedures.

“But researchers in the countries that plan to build these laboratories say they are needed. The lack of high-security labs in some regions became particularly apparent during the pandemic, because work on the live virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, must be done at a BSL-3 or BSL-4 facility,” the report explained.

Bharati Pawar, India’s health minister, said in the report, “The pandemic exposed the weakness of health systems worldwide in recognizing and responding to emerging threats in public health. In this light, the critical element of any preparedness program is lab preparedness.”

Her nation plans for one of the new BSL-3 labs in Bengaluru.

According to a report at Just the News, reported the BSL-4 lab at Galveston National Laboratory, in Texas, brings in $12 million a year from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “just for maintenance and operations,” one-sixth of that just for 24-hour security, said the virologist who runs it, Thomas Ksiazek.

BSL-3 labs handle dangerous pathogens, and BSL-4 labs handle the most dangerous, including those that are separated at all times from all other procedures in the facilities, and even must have their own dedicated air supply.

Nature reported, “BSL-3 laboratories are designed so that scientists can safely work with potentially lethal and inhalable pathogens in a contained environment. Experiments are conducted in sealed workspaces in which the air is filtered and not recirculated, and the entrance to the facility is typically secured by self-closing doors. BSL-4 facilities, in which researchers work with fatal pathogens that can spread through aerosols, and for which vaccines or treatments are lacking or limited, require extra security measures. These labs are isolated from other sections of a building and have a dedicated air supply, and researchers change clothes and shower before entering and leaving the premises.”

Asia, Kazhakhstan, Singapore and the Philippines have announced plans to build their first BSL-4 facilities, the United States has committed to adding another BSL-4 lab and Russia announced last year that it will build 15 BSL-4 labs, although details are scant.

Twenty-four BSL-4 labs have been proposed since the COVID-19 tragedy.

While new facilities will increase lab availability to researchers, Illich Mombo, a virologist at the International Centre for Medical Research of Franceville in Gabon, says that roughly 10% of his lab’s budget goes on experiments, whereas around 90% is spent on checking, maintaining and repairing the facility, Nature reported.

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