Why the world has no universal biosafety standardsBMJ 2022; 377 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o954 (Published 14 April 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o954
- Andrew Silver, freelance journalist
- New Taipei City, Taiwan
In late November 2021, after weeks of no confirmed community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center held a special evening press conference to announce an unusual covid-19 case. A laboratory worker at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan’s most prominent research institution, seemed to have become infected through working with animals infected with covid-19.
Academia Sinica was fined for biosafety lapses this January.1 It shocked a former city health commissioner. “We have the law and we have the standards so the problem is non-compliance in implementation and lack of oversight,” says Chiou Shu-Ti, now president of the Health and Sustainable Development Foundation in Taipei. “Both are not just problematic; actually, both are not functioning at all.”
Taiwan isn’t the only place where laboratory workers have become exposed to pathogens. The UK Health and Safety Authority told The BMJ that between January 2020 and December 2021 laboratories in England, Scotland, and Wales had reported 56 unintended pathogen exposures. The Public Health Agency of Canada said it was working on a report for incidents in 2021, but in 2020, 42 unintended pathogen exposures were reported in Canada.2
Infections of laboratory workers in Taipei, Beijing, and Singapore with SARS-CoV-1 after the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic had ended led the 2005 World Health Assembly to adopt a resolution for strengthening biosafety worldwide.3 The resolution requested the WHO director general to ensure that the organisation takes an active role in improving biosafety and provides support to member states, including by updating guidance documents, generating knowledge, and sharing best practices.
With the covid-19 pandemic, biosafety concerns have grown. China passed a new comprehensive biosecurity law in 2020 that went into …