Various parties speculate about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic that hasn’t been answered to this day. This paper discusses laboratories that research and store a variety of bacteria, viruses, fungus, dangerous spores to understand some of the mysteries of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biological Safety Levels (BSL) are biology laboratories with safety ratings of one to four based on the type of organism studied. The laboratory is equipped with safety devices designed to protect personnel, the environment, and the nearby community.

BSL-1 is a basic laboratory that examines non-lethal organisms so that the potential threat is low and doesn’t endanger laboratory personnel and the surrounding environment (Trapotsis, 2020). Mourya, Yadav, Majumdar, Chauhan, Katoch (2014) explain the differences in the characteristics of BSL-2 and BSL-3. BSL-2 examines non-respiratory and non-lethal pathogens, but its facilities continue to prioritize safety, for example using biological safety cabinets and high-pressure steam sterilizers to kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores by damaging their protein structure (autoclave). BSL-3 examines serious diseases that enter through the respiratory tract, potentially causing death and polluting the environment. The main requirement of BSL-3 is that laboratory personnel receive special training in handling pathogens and are supervised by scientists who understand the correct procedures for handling pathogenic organisms. All work is carried out in safe isolation facilities using appropriate engineering controls to prevent accidental release during research. Other functions of BSL-3 are clinical, diagnostic, and educational facilities.

BSL-4 is the highest and most strict laboratory that examines deadly and exotic pathogenic organisms such as smallpox, MERS, SARS, Lassa, Nipah, Marburg, Ebola, HIV, and others. BSL-4 only employs experienced and high-quality staff who are selected rigorously and carefully and are willing to work under constant supervision when allowed to access the laboratory. The high threat of transmission through aerosols (particles scattered in the atmosphere such as gas, smoke or fog) causes pathogens in the laboratory to be dangerous for laboratory personnel and the people who live around the laboratory building, therefore BSL-4 has air filtration facilities, as well as water treatment and waste. Some strict procedures that scientists must carry out are first, entering, and leaving the laboratory through a series of airlock-safe doors. Second, working in protective clothing without outside air flow and relying solely on relying on air supply from their breathing, so they are often dehydrated and exhausted. Third, change clothes and take a shower before and after using laboratory facilities. They are required to carry out strict decontamination procedures after finishing work, namely cleaning protective clothing with special decontamination baths. BSL-4 often gets a rejection from the community because its existence is considered controversial, but the establishment of a new laboratory continues to this day. In 1981, Japan founded the first BSL-4 facility. At present, there are more than 50 BSL-4 facilities throughout the world. Four laboratories are located in the WHO region. North America and Western Europe have built more than a dozen BSL-4 facilities in the last 15 years. Construction of several BSL-4 facilities is underway in Asia, especially in China and Japan, including Sub-Saharan Africa (Cyranoski, 2017; WHO, 2018; National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2020; Robert Koch Institut; Trapotsis, 2020).

Viruses that are examined and stored in BSL-4

© Robert Koch Institut

The first BSL-4 in mainland China that became the center of world attention

The Covid-19 pandemic caused Wuhan’s BSL-4 to become the center of world attention because many people speculated that the Covid-19 virus “escaped” from this laboratory. Cyranoski (2017) explains that China plans to build five to seven BSL-4 throughout mainland China by 2025. The construction of the first BSL-4 laboratory in Wuhan costs 300 million yuan or 44 million US dollars and claims to have considered various aspects of building safety. In the first aspect, the building is far from the flood plain. The second aspect, earthquake-resistant capacity up to 7 on the Richter scale even though Wuhan does not have a strong earthquake history. The third aspect focuses on controlling disease, storing purified viruses, and acting as a ‘reference laboratory’ for the World Health Organization (WHO) which is connected with similar laboratories around the world.

“It will be a key node in the global biosafety-lab network,”

Yuan Zhiming (Director of the Laboratory)

Chinese microbiologists are delighted to have the rare opportunity to study BSL-4 level pathogens. In August 2017, the Chinese National Health Commission approved research activities on the Ebola virus, Nipah virus, and Crimea-Congo dengue virus (Xia et.al, 2019). On the other hand, foreign scientists worry that one day the pathogen might escape, the biological dimension will blend with the geopolitical dimension and create tension between China and other countries (Cyranoski, 2017).

List of BSL-4 worldwide based on WHO records (2020):

  1. Institute of Virology, National Institute of Agricultural Technology (Argentina)
  2. National Food Safety and Quality Service (Argentina)
  3. Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia)
  4. Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biohazard Response Unit (EIBRU), Westmead Hospital (Australia)
  5. Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL), Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Australia)
  6. Pan American Foot-and-Mouth Disease Center (Brazil)
  7. National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Canada)
  8. National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), Public Health Agency of Canada (Canada)
  9. Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing China BSL-4 (China)
  10. Chinese National High Containment Facilities for Animal Diseases Control and Prevention, Harbin Veterinary Research Institute (China)
  11. Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (China)
  12. Institut Pasteur de Côte d’Ivoire, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (Côte d’Ivoire)
  13. Department for Biological Defence, Military Institute of Health (Czech Republic)
  14. Laboratory for Biological Monitoring and Protection, National Institute for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Protection (Czech Republic)
  15. National Veterinary Institute, Technical University of Denmark (Denmark)
  16. Jean Mérieux Laboratory P4, National Institute of Health and Medical Research of France (France)
  17. Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (German)
  18. Fredrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), Federal Research Institute for Animal Health (German)
  19. Institute for Virology, Philipps University of Marburg (German)
  20. Robert Koch Institute (German)
  21. National Biosafety Laboratory (OKI), National Public Health Institute (Hungary)
  22. Microbial Containment Complex (MCC), National Institute of Virology (India)
  23. High Security Animal Disease Laboratory, National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (India)
  24. Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases (Italy)
  25. L. Sacco University Hospital, University of Milan (Italy)
  26. Nagasaki University BSL-4, Nagasaki University (Japan)
  27. National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Japan)
  28. National Biocontainment Laboratory, Ministry for Primary Industries (New Zealand)
  29. Osong BSL-4 Laboratory, Korea Centers for Disease (Republic of Korea)
  30. Federal Budgetary Research Institution – State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR, Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Russian Federation)
  31. National Health Laboratory, Saudi Ministry of Health (Saudi Arabia)
  32. Special Pathogens Unit, National Institute for Communicable Diseases (South Africa)
  33. Centre for Research into Animal Health (CReSA), Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and the Institute of Agri-food Research and Technology (Spain)
  34. Unit of Highly Pathogenic Microorganisms, Department of Preparedness, Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control (Sweden)
  35. Institute of Medical Virology, University of Zurich (Switzerland)
  36. Laboratory of Virology, Geneva University Hospitals (Switzerland)
  37. Institute of Virology and Immunology (IVI), Federal Department of Home Affairs (Switzerland)
  38. Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (United Kingdom)
  39. Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, Public Health England (United Kingdom)
  40. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
  41. High Containment Large Animal Facility (HCLAF), Pirbright Institute (United
    Kingdom)
  42. National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), Department of Health (United States of America)
  43. Rocky Mountain Lab (RML), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (United States of America)
  44. National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (United States of America)
  45. Galveston National Laboratory, University of Texas Medical Branch (United States of America)
  46. Viral Immunology Center, Georgia State University (United States of America)
  47. Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (United States of America)
  48. Special Pathogens Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (United States of America)
  49. Texas Biomedical Research Institute (United States of America)
  50. National Emerging Infectious Diesease Laboratories (NEIDL), Boston University (United States of America)
  51. US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), US Department of Defense (United States of America)
  52. National Bio and Agri-Defense Facility (NBAF), US Department of Homeland Security  (United States of America)
  53. Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), Plum Island (United States of America)
  54. Plum Island Animal Disease Center, US Department of Homeland Security (United States of America)

Sources:
Arthur Trapotsis. Do You Know The Difference in Laboratory Biosafety Levels 1, 2, 3 & 4? (March 2020) https://consteril.com/biosafety-levels-difference/

David Cyranoski. Inside China’s Pathogen Lab (February 2017). https://go.nature.com/3h1uduH

Devendra T. Mourya, Pragya D. Yadav, Triparna Dutta Majumdar, Devendra S. Chauhan. Establishment of Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) laboratory: Important criteria to consider while designing, constructing, commissioning & operating the facility in Indian setting (August, 2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216491/

Han Xia, Yi Huang, Haixia Ma, Bobo Liu, Weiwei Xie, Donglin Song, Zhiming Yuan. Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory User Training Program, China (May, 2019). https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/25/5/18-0220_article#suggestedcitation

Marlon L. Bayot; Kevin C. King. Biohazard Levels (March 2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535351/

The Biosafety Level-4 Laboratory at RKI. https://www.rki.de/EN/Content/infections/Diagnostics/SpecialLab/BSL4Laboratory_page.html

World Health Organization (WHO). (Biosafety Level 4) Laboratories Networking (12 July 2020). File: WHO-WHE-CPI-2018.40-eng

Photo: Unsplash/CDC