Here’s the list of biolabs handling dangerous viruses being built worldwide. According to experts, they might be a problem if dangerous research is conducted there and “gets into the wrong hands.”
Despite worries that Covid may have been the outcome of the hazardous trials, the Coronavirus outbreak has sparked a global increase in facilities that handle deadly viruses, reports Mail Online.
Since 2020, more than 40 facilities, mostly in Asia, have either been built or are now under development and are accredited as biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) or level 4 facilities.
Many nations feel that Covid caught them off guard and are attempting to prevent the next catastrophic breakout by researching diseases that are dangerous to humans.
In these facilities, experiments sometimes involve tampering with animal viruses to develop cures and vaccines that might be applied in a future outbreak.
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There are however widespread worries that these studies could actually increase the likelihood of pandemics, as some scientists think happened with Covid.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a high security biolab that dealt with hazardous bat coronaviruses, is roughly eight miles from the wet market where the virus first started to spread.
Some of Covid’s closest relatives were the focus of research there. Additionally, it was discovered that they had destroyed vital databases and impeded independent investigations of the laboratory’s connections to the pandemic.
Professor Paul Hunter, a specialist in infectious illnesses at the University of East Anglia in England, expressed concern over the intended use of all the new labs.
“The issue is what you’re going to be using [the labs] for,” he told this website. “If they’re for diagnostic purposes, then you need them. But I don’t think every country needs a BSL-4.”
He added: “If they start having a dual purpose for research that has offensive military implications, that is the concern.”
Russia has proposed 15 maximum security labs, and India is striving for a total of 18 BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs. The United States is also adding a new high-level biosecurity lab to its existing 12.
Research on the live virus responsible for Covid must be done in a BSL-3 or BSL-4 laboratory.
All studies in BSL-3 labs are conducted in a ‘biosafety cabinet,’ which is an enclosed, ventilated workspace for processing pathogen-contaminated materials.
The labs are also equipped with self-closing doors, sealed windows, floors, and walls, as well as filtered ventilation systems.
Full-body, air-supplied pressure suits are worn in a BSL-4 lab, and personnel must replace their clothing before entering and shower before exiting.
The lab is in its own portion of the building, with its own specialized air supply.
India is currently building five BSL-3 facilities and plans to build at least nine more. Four institutions intend to construct BSL-4 labs with the highest level of protection.
India now has three BSL-4 labs, although only one is active.
Additionally, the Indian government has decided to establish four new national virology institutes, two of which will tackle BSL-4 pathogens in the future.
Kazakhstan, the Philippines, and Singapore are also planning to develop their first BSL-4 facilities in Asia. The United States will soon add another BSL-4 lab to its existing collection of 12 maximum-biosafety level facilities.
Russia also declared this year that it will construct 15 BSL-4 labs, but provided little specifics.
Greater high-security biochemical labs allow for more high-risk research, such as gain-of-function studies, in which infections are transformed, perhaps making them more lethal.
There are now 63 BSL-4 labs in the globe.
Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia in England, an expert in infection illnesses, stated that the concern is not the proliferation of higher level security labs around the world, but what they would be utilized for.
He described BSL-4 labs as “a whole level up” from BSL-3 labs, adding that “they are very rare.”
In terms of human pathogens, BSL-4 facilities would handle ‘really nasty’ stuff like Ebola and Lassa fever.
This is because “many of the pathogens that you would handle in category four labs are known bioterrorism and biowarfare agents in the wrong hands”, he said.
Although the idea that Covid escaped from the Wuhan BSL-4 lab has generally been debunked, viruses can still leak from research environments.
Professor Hunter said: “The whole thing about a BSL-4 lab is that it substantially reduces the risk of viral escape, although it doesn’t always guarantee it.”
He added: “There are quite a few laboratory acquired infections by lab workers picking things up. Most of them are relatively minor, but it is always a concern.”
“We have had and we still do have lab escape problems around the world,” he added.
However, he asserted that, in theory, the category 4 labs are the most secure settings for handling the dangerous pathogens.
High level biosecurity labs are necessary in several ways.
Professor Hunter said: “You’ve got to do some work on them, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to deal with an outbreak of Ebola. You’ve got to have these and they’ve got to be reasonably readily available.”
He said that “there are some things people do that could cause substantial harm if they get released,” adding, “the nervousness is that if you’ve got such facilities, whether then you start doing inappropriate research or development that ultimately will have more sinister outcomes.”
Professor Hunter stated that he was not worried about the new labs sprouting up since “there are perfectly good, perfectly necessary reasons why you might want them.”
He said: “If I was responsible for stuff in India and I knew we’d had problems managing the early stages of the Covid outbreak because we didn’t have access to appropriate category 4 level labs, I would be damn well sure I wanted to build category level 4 labs to make sure that if we had that problem again, I’d be able to better serve the population.”
“But would I be concerned if people started using these labs for research that could ultimately be harmful? Then yes.”