The Wuhan Institute of Virology and its lab have been at the heart of the storm of a controversial lab leak theory since the COVID-19 outbreak, although many industry experts have repeatedly endorsed the laboratory safety and the impossibility of the theory of laboratory leaks.
The National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China was officially commissioned in 2018, becoming China’s first BSL-4 laboratory – the highest safety level of all – to research many deadly viruses around the world.
A BSL-4 lab is also referred to as a P4 lab. The letter “P” means pathogen, the higher the number, the more dangerous the pathogen. A P4 rating designates a laboratory as a maximum security area. The P4 lab is primarily used for research into deadly viruses, especially those without a known cure or vaccine.
Besides China, only a few countries publicly have P4 labs, including the United States, Australia, France, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, and South Africa.
Yuan Zhiming, director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, presented in a previous interview with CGTN that the laboratory has strict measures to protect researchers from pathogens and also keep pathogens in the laboratory. “We have a complex system for electricity, air filtration, emergency shower, automation, fire safety and life support. All of these facilities operate to ensure a confined space at negative pressure.
The laboratory was built in close cooperation between France and China, which adopted a design similar to that of France’s P4 laboratory. The central laboratory is installed both on the sewer system and on the life support system. The filter system is built on top of the central lab with a layer of pipeline system in between. In addition, the air conditioning system is put in place before everything else.
“All the systems are established to ensure the proper functioning of the central lab, creating a negative pressure environment in the lab to keep everything inside,” Yuan said in an interview with Xinhua. He said under negative pressure anything that came from outside the lab could enter but not the other way around.
The lab air will be cleaned through two filtering systems before being evacuated and all contaminants will need to be biosafety removed and sterilized through high temperature and pressure facilities to prevent possible leaks, according to Yuan.
It takes almost half an hour for each person to enter or exit the laboratory. Personnel should wear positive pressure suits, which have hoses for breathing air.
“Without permission, not even a mosquito can sneak into the lab, and none of our researchers can get even a drop of water or a piece of paper out of the lab,” Yuan said. He also refuted a certain conspiracy: “When some people hypothesized that we could sell the lab animals or that these animals could escape from our lab, they actually had no idea of the management and the operations of our laboratory ”.
Researchers and experts from other countries have also acknowledged the management of security in the Wuhan laboratory.
Danielle Anderson, the only foreign scientist employed with the institute’s BSL-4 lab in 2019, told Bloomberg in an interview in June that the lab’s functions and activities have been obscured by half-truths and distorted information. .
“What people say is just not what it is,” she said. “The lab is a regular lab that functions the same as any other high-containment lab. “
Anderson said the institute “has the highest biosafety designation and requires that air, water and waste be filtered and sterilized before leaving the facility.”
The scientist provided more first-hand details about the lab that the protocols and requirements were so strict that researchers had to undergo 45 hours of training to be certified to work independently in the lab.
The process of entering and leaving the institute was “particularly complex,” and researchers had to take both a chemical shower and a personal shower on precisely planned schedules, according to Anderson.
French biosecurity expert Gabriel Gras said there is a “zero percent” chance that the new coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic has leaked from the Wuhan laboratory during an interview with Xinhua.
Gras was employed as a technical expert at the French Embassy in China for the implementation of Franco-Chinese cooperation on emerging infectious diseases between 2012 and 2017, during which time he visited the laboratory once or twice. per month.
He noted that the lab was built and operated to very strict standards. With training as a biosafety specialist and virologist, Gras said he was fully involved in verifying this in his daily work.
Gras explained that coronaviruses, including the novel coronavirus, belong to pathogens BSL-3 or BSL-2, rather than BSL-4, and it makes good sense that people will not use a BSL facility. -4 to study BSL-3 pathogens or a BSL-3 facility for BSL-2 pathogens.
“Using a BSL-4 lab to work with a coronavirus is like using a 20-ton crane to move a 30-kilogram refrigerator, which would be completely illogical.”