Why Japan Imported Ebola Ahead of the 2020 Olympics

in Featured, In The News
October 18th, 2019

Japan is preparing for tens of thousands of international tourists to descend on Tokyo for the Olympic Games next year — and that includes being ready for unwanted biological visitors.

Last month, Japan imported Ebola and four other dangerous viruses in preparation for a possible outbreak at the event. The Japanese health ministry says researchers will use the samples, which include Marburg virus, Lassa virus, and the viruses that cause South American haemorrhagic fever and Crimean–Congo haemorrhagic fever, to validate tests under development.

The viruses’ arrival represents the first time that pathogens rated biosafety-level-4 (BSL-4) — the most dangerous rating — have been allowed to enter the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), the only facility in the country operating at that level.

Japan’s medical-science community welcomes the move. Although infectious-disease scientists say that the risk of an outbreak during the Olympics isn’t much higher than at any other time, access to the live viruses will boost the country’s capacity to handle infectious diseases in general — and to prepare for a bioterror attack.

Although the NIID’s laboratory in Musashimurayama, Tokyo, was built to BSL-4 specifications in 1981, it operated as a BSL-3 lab for decades because of opposition from residents. In 2015, the health ministry and the Musashimurayama mayor agreed that it could operate as a BSL-4 lab, but the decision to import the five viruses was only finalized in July.

Japan’s ability to study the most dangerous pathogens has lagged behind that of other advanced nations — both the United States and Europe have more than a dozen BSL-4 labs in operation or under construction, and China is building a network of at least five BSL-4 labs, with one already operational in Wuhan.


Click to read full article on Nature International Journal of Science