WITH the outbreak of coronavirus now spreading beyond China’s borders, with 830 cases confirmed world-wide and 25 deaths so far, it has emerged Wuhan, where the disease was first spotted, is the site of a biosafety lab housing some of the world’s most deadly illnesses.
By Ciaran McGrath PUBLISHED: 08:06, Fri, Jan 24, 2020 | UPDATED: 10:47, Fri, Jan 24, 2020
Indications are the bug originated in a seafood market as a result of close human contact with animals – but the presence of the laboratory, which celebrates its 5th anniversary next Friday, will raise eyebrows. The facility, described as China’s first high-level biosafety laboratory, opened in Wuhan, which has a population of 11 million and which is the capital of Hubei province, on January 31, 2015, after more than a decade of construction, according to a press release issued by the General Office of Hubei Provincial People’s Government at the time.
Pictures carried on the Government website featured staff, some clad in biohazard suits, at the new centre.
The lab is used to study class four pathogens (P4), referring to the most virulent viruses which pose a high risk of “aerosol-transmitted person-to-person infections”, the press release states.
Launched after the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the facility was jointly funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in conjunction with the Wuhan municipal government.
The lab is based in Wuhan – site of the coronavirus outbreak (Image: GETTY)
The laboratory, in Wuhan, was opened five years ago (Image: General Office of Hubei Provincial People’s Government)
Most of the technology was imported from France, which worked closely with China on its design.
The Wuhan P4 lab meant China was one of just a handful of developed countries operating such facilities to help handle the most “virulent pathogens”.
CAS president Bai Chunli explained the lab was important for China’s public health defence system.
Travellers in China, wearing facemasks (Image: GETTY)
He said: “It will play a crucial role in enhancing the country’s ability to prevent and control new epidemics as well as to develop related vaccines.”
Designed to the “highest-level biosafety standards”, it offered “an essential platform for research and development” against highly contagious and infectious diseases.
Li Bin, minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, added: “The laboratory filled the domestic void, providing conditions for research on the Ebola virus, and brought the frontier of fighting the virus from Africa to domestic laboratories.”
A scientist in a biohazard suit at the facility (Image: GETTY)
France’s Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visits the lab in 2017 (Image: GETTY)
Wuhan and two other cities in Hubei province with a combined population of more than 25 million people are effectively under lockdown as Chinese authorities try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The latest update by the country’s National Health Commission has confirmed the first death outside Hubei – an 80-year-old man died after becoming symptomatic after returning from a stay with relative in Wuhan.
China is also building a new 1,000-bed hospital, specifically to treat patients with the virus.
How the coronavirus is spreading (Image: Daily Express)
Public Health England has confirmed 14 people in the UK are being tested for the virus, five of whom have tested negative.
The Scottish Government has confirmed five tests were conducted north of the border, while one man in Belfast in Northern Ireland was also treated for symptoms associated with the disease.
Infections expert Professor Jurgen Haas has said there will likely be “many more cases” around the country, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted the NHS is “ready to respond appropriately”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (Image: GETTY)
In a statement to MPs yesterday, Mr Hancock said while “there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them”.
Also yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was “too early” to declare an international public health emergency over the outbreak.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, told reporters: “Make no mistake, this is though an emergency in China.
“But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”