CORONAVIRUS/Investigation reveals violations of safety rules at COVID-19 lab

An investigation into how a researcher became infected with COVID-19 while working at a laboratory handling the virus has found that lab researchers failed to follow certain safety protocols and that a previous incident was not properly reported.

The researcher, Taiwan's first domestic COVID-19 case in over a month, is a woman in her 20s who worked until early December in a lab at the Genomics Research Center at Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institution.

She began to display COVID-19 symptoms in late November, and a COVID-19 test she took on Dec. 9 came back positive.

Based on genome sequencing results, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has concluded that the laboratory in Taipei's Nangang District where she worked was the origin of the infection, but it was still unclear how she caught the virus.

On Monday, Academia Sinica President James Liao (???) told lawmakers at a legislative hearing that researchers at the lab violated safety protocols in conducting experiments.

Researchers are only allowed to handle COVID-19-infected mice in biosafety cabinets within the lab, but surveillance footage in late November showed violations of that rule, and no supervisors or senior researchers were monitoring the experiments at the time, Liao said.

Also, when leaving the lab, only one of the three researchers in the laboratory at the time, which included the woman who later tested positive for COVID-19, followed the correct sequence when taking off their protective gear, he said.

The researcher who got COVID-19 may not have received adequate safety training before starting work at the lab, Liao said, and there were also issues with reporting potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus in the lab.

The researcher who got COVID-19 was bitten by COVID-19-infected mice twice while working in the laboratory.

When she reported the first incident, which occurred in mid-October, the head of the laboratory classified it as "low-risk" and only instructed her to monitor her health.

The researcher also reported the incident to a biosafety officer, but neither the officer nor the head of the lab reported the incident further up the chain of command, which was a violation of protocol, Liao said.

The researcher paid for a rapid COVID-19 test herself after the incident, which came back negative.

After the woman was bitten by a COVID-19-infected mouse a second time in mid-November, she did not report the incident because she felt as though her previous report was not taken seriously, according to Liao.

The CECC has requested that Academia Sinica submit a full report on the incident before Dec. 19.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel