A FEMALE lab worker in Taiwan is feared to have infected dozens of people with Covid in a terrifying leak, officials said.
The researcher in capital Taipei who tested positive for the coronavirus may have caught it during experiments in the laboratory, local media reports.
Authorities have begun tracing more than 85 people listed as contacts of the woman and who are feared to be carrying the deadly virus.
During a press conference today, an official the infected person was aged in her 20s and had been working at the Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Centre.
Official Chen Shih-chun, of the Central Epidemic Command Centre, said the woman was "exposed to the pathogen" in mid-November while working at the Biosafety Level-3 lab.
This comes amid claims that Covid-19 was initially leaked from a Level-4 lab in Wuhan, China – a theory which Beijing has strongly denied.
On November 26, the Taiwan researcher developed a light cough – a symptom which worsened on December 4.
That prompted her to have a PCR test which came back positive on December 9, Taiwan News reports.
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Investigators are tracing the woman's recent movements and places where she visited are being notified.
The case is being considered "local" as the infected lab worker did not travel abroad or come into contact with other confirmed cases.
An official said it appears to be the first ever case of a Level 3 staff member being infected in Taiwan.
This comes as an ex-MI6 chief said the UK's science sector has been compromised by a "malign Chinese communist influence" which led it to echo Beijing's line that Covid did not leak from the Wuhan lab.
Sir Richard Dearlove, 76, says he believes many British universities are dependent on funding from China.
He told The Australian: "In the future, we will have to take very careful steps to control this in terms of registering where Chinese research students go and what their interests are, and take greater steps to protect intellectual property in our universities, particularly in areas of sensitive research."
Speaking of Beijing's Covid propaganda campaign, he said: "What concerns me and what worries me is the extent to which the West went along with this."
Earlier this year, experts from King's College London compiled a report titled "Mapping Maximum Biological Containment Labs Globally" in an effort to highlight the "significant risks" posed by the labs amid the pandemic.
The published paper – and accompanying interactive map – shows the 59 biosecurity Level four (BSL-4) locations, both in operation or planned, which deal with some of the most deadly pathogens.
It highlights 18 in Europe, 14 in North America, 13 in Asia, seven in Britain, four in Australia and three in Africa.
BSL-4 labs are designed to work with potentially devastating viruses for which there are no vaccine or cure.
Pathogens which have been studied in labs of this kind include Ebola, the Nipah and Lassa viruses, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever – all which have potential to be more fatal than Covid.
The locations are high security environments where scientists have to wear protective suits in pressurised chambers which they have to enter via airlocks.
Despite all these security efforts however, there is always the fear that something could escape and potentially cause devastation.
And the KCL paper – penned by Dr Filippa Lentzos and Dr Gregory D. Koblentz – warns international standards are woefully inadequate to properly police the major threat posed by the labs.
"The risks of work with dangerous pathogens mean that extremely
high-levels of safety and security protection must be applied and that the work must be conducted responsibly", it reads.
"This is especially important for work with pathogens that may have devastating consequences for local, regional, and global communities, if an exposure or accidental release were to occur."
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