The proliferation of "boom labs," facilities designed to handle the world's most dangerous viral pathogens, has reportedly become a significant concern for medical experts in the post-COVID-19-pandemic age.
According to the Daily Mail, more than 100 high-level facilities throughout the world have been tasked with storing and experimenting on volatile viruses, such as Ebola and bird flu.
As such, scientists have become alarmed by the lack of industry or governmental oversight of these labs, relative to biosafety rules, particularly in China — the reported origin site of the COVID-19 virus.
Experiments being conducted in these labs includes gain-of-function research, a controversial branch of science that seeks to manipulate pathogens, according to the Daily Mail.
The boom labs expansion could "exacerbate" the potential impact of an "accidental release" with the labs holding pathogens, such as smallpox, Ebola, and Lassa fever.
"We're seeing rapid expansion of max containment labs in Asia but many of these countries score poorly on biorisk management," said Dr. Filippa Lentzos, an expert in international security at King's College, London. "There's been a global boom in construction of labs handling dangerous pathogens.
"But this hasn't been accompanied by sufficient biosafety and biosecurity oversight," Lentzos added.
According to the National Institutes of Health Biosafety Level 4 is the highest and "most complex" biohazard level, involving relatively few clinical microbiology laboratories.
"There is a high transmission via aerosol, making the pathogens more dangerous for the laboratory workforce and the surrounding community," according to the NIH.
BSL-4 labs, the Daily Mail reports, typically employ armed guards at the facility, and require researchers to wear fully enclosed PPE suits during experiments.
However, there are no requirements under the Biological Weapons Convention confidence-building measures to regulate other labs.
Dr. Gregory Koblentz of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University told the Daily Mail: "We urgently need coordinated international action to address increasing biorisks."
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