The Japanese government has imported Ebola strains and four other lethal pathogens to investigate possible countermeasures should an outbreak occur with the vast influx of athletes and tourists at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) of the Ministry of Health of Japan has initiated testing on live samples of Ebola, Congo Crimean haemorrhagic fever, South American haemorrhagic fever, Marburg disease and Lassa fever to validate existing tests and used to help contain any potential outbreaks and mitigate the risks of a major public health emergency.
All five viral agents had never been introduced to Japan before and are the most dangerous biological agents ever made and studied at the Musashimurayama laboratory on the west side of Tokyo in what was described as a "landmark event" by the director of the NIID department. Masayuki Saijo.
NIID's Musashimurayama laboratory operated as a Level 3 Biosafety Laboratory (BSL-3) for decades, but was eventually upgraded to BSL-4 in 2015 to address the most dangerous pathogens known to man, in spite of opposition from nearby residents.
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Authorities argue that the risk of being unprepared for such an outbreak due to lack of study and understanding far outweighs the potential risk of not keeping them contained in a controlled and highly secure environment.
Meanwhile, the Japanese medical scientific community approves the decision to bring pathogens into the study, but recognizes that the risk of an outbreak during the Olympics is negligible higher than at any other time.
The NIID will use live samples to validate tests and determine if a patient is still infectious by measuring antibody production. Saijo said Nature that research will also help Japan prepare for an equally unlikely but potentially catastrophic bioterrorism attack.
A second BSL-4 laboratory is under construction at Nagasaki University in southern Japan and is due to open in 2022.
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