The Chinese government is to ban all SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) research laboratories that fail new licensing tests organized by The Ministry of Science and Technology from conducting further research.
Experts will check that all labs conducting SARS research nationwide strictly adhere to the set standards, and those that pass will receive new licenses.
Research experiments should be conducted in labs of grade-three bio-security, the second highest of the four bio-security levels, the ministry announced.
According to the ministry's overall appraisal on China's current bio-security situation, the measures already taken in the country are enough to safeguard bio-security during SARS study.
Any negligence or carelessness by researchers or lab workers, however, could invite serious results, it said, ordering more measures to keep the labs 100 percent safe.
"Problems with SARS labs in Taiwan and Singapore have rung alarm bells for us," said a ministry official.
Two medical researchers in Taiwan and Singapore SARS labs were recently infected with SARS during laboratory experiments.
The ministry had organized another round of checks for SARS labs around China, focusing on Beijing and the provinces of Guangdong, Hubei and Heilongjiang, which were badly hit during the SARS outbreak this year.
Meanwhile, the ministry and other departments are drafting new regulations for the legal regulation of bio-security lab management.
China prepares tougher rules on safety of SARS research
A senior official responsible for scientific research on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus Tuesday warned China's scientists against negligence while working in laboratories with high biological risks.
Li Xueyong, chief coordinator for national SARS research project, said although no lab-related SARS cases had been reported, researchers should continue remain aware of potential dangers.
"Safety in labs with high biological risks should be the top priority," said Li, who is also Vice-Minister of Science and Technology.
Government authorities have banned cooperation on SARS between authorized research bodies and unauthorized groups or individuals, including international activities, in which safety loopholes might exist.
Li urged Chinese SARS researchers to do their best to prevent lab-related contamination, as in the two recent cases in Singapore and Taiwan.
The Ministry of Science and Technology, with other government departments, issued two provisional measures on SARS virus research, banning disqualified labs and unauthorized researchers, untested research methods, unauthorized virus preservation and specimen smuggling.
The ministry is planning to overhaul all authorized SARS research laboratories nationwide with the latest, unspecified safety measures.
China's first regulation on biological safety labs is also in the pipeline. It is soon to be submitted to the State Council for approval.
(People's Daily December 30, 2003)