A leading Taiwanese academic institution will pay the equivalent of $5,400 in fines after reporting that a lab worker was infected with SARS-CoV-2 while conducting research on the delta strain of the virus . The lab assistant left her lab and exposed 110 close contacts to the disease. According to Sciencethe case marks what is likely the first verified case of a researcher infected with the virus in the laboratory.
Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced the fine at a press conference. The Central Epidemic Command Center reported that the worker, who is vaccinated and in her 20s, became symptomatic on Nov. 26, before testing positive. She handled infected animals and may have inhaled the virus after removing her protective gear in the wrong order, mask first, according to Science. At the time, Taiwan was not reporting any local transmission of COVID-19, and sequencing showed that the lab worker had been infected with a strain donated to the Sinica Academy lab, which conducted drug and drug research. vaccines.
The worker has since resigned and her supervisor, immunologist Jan Jia-Tsrong, has retired, according to the Science report, which noted that Jan himself had already been infected with the SARS virus while researching the pathogen in 2003, six months after the global SARS outbreak ended. In the current case, Taiwanese authorities reported several safety issues at the lab, according to the scientific journal, which reported that workers were not wearing N95 masks or improperly using safety equipment. None of the infected worker’s contacts have tested positive, nor have several hundred other people linked to the case.
Some biosecurity experts drew a link between the incident in Taiwan and a theory about the origin of COVID-19, according to which the virus began to spread after an accident in a laboratory in Wuhan. In a Twitter thread praising Taiwan’s transparency, Alina Chan, a molecular biologist, who wrote a book wondering if the pandemic could have laboratory origins, wrote: “Finding the #OriginOfCovid is important to effectively develop measures against the kinds of scenarios that gave rise to this pandemic pathogen.
If you don’t know how a deadly virus appeared in your country, how could you take appropriate measures to prevent future outbreaks?
find the #OriginOfCovid is important to develop effective measures against the types of scenarios that gave rise to this pandemic pathogen.
— Alina Chan (@Ayjchan) December 11, 2021
There are two main theories about how the pandemic started. Many scientists believe that the pandemic began with a natural spillover from an infected animal. Others, like Chan, believe a lab incident could have precipitated the first cases in China in 2019.