National / Science & Health

Government eyes using biocontainment lab in western Tokyo to analyze Ebola

Kyodo

The government, faced with a flurry of suspected Ebola infections among people arriving at the nation’s gateways, hopes to start using a biocontainment laboratory on the outskirts of Tokyo to analyze the virus, the health minister suggested Monday.

The lab is the only facility in Japan capable of checking suspected patients’ blood for Ebola. But it can’t analyze the virus because it has yet to become operational as a “biosafety level 4” lab, the designation given to a lab with the highest containment level, due partly to local opposition.

On Monday, health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki inspected the lab in Musashimurayama, western Tokyo and agreed with Mayor Masaru Fujino to move consultations forward. The lab is operated by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The city has agreed to the talks on condition that the central government ensure the safety of the lab and local residents accept the move.

The lab was built within the institute’s Murayama office in 1981 but remains nonoperational as a biosafety level 4 lab. It does not handle pathogens like Ebola, nor can it test drugs against the virus.

Amid local opposition, the city had continued calling for the government to keep the lab from operating and to move it elsewhere.

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