TOKYO • A research lab in a Tokyo suburb will start handling some of the world's deadliest viruses for the first time, officials said yesterday.
Japan has no active level-four biosafety labs, so this will bring it in line with other G-7 nations - there are about 40 such sites worldwide.
The Tokyo lab was built in 1981 and designed to handle the most dangerous known viruses. But opponents feared that the neighbourhood, with schools and other community buildings, would be at risk.
In response, the site was downgraded to a level-three facility, where scientists can work with microbes like the Middle East respiratory syndrome virus.
The decision to boost it to the highest biosafety level came as Health Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki signed an agreement with the mayor of the Musashimurayama suburb on Monday. The upgrade means the lab can handle Ebola and the Lassa fever viruses, among others.
Healthcare experts welcomed the move.
"Finally, Japan has caught up with other developed nations," said virology professor Jiro Yasuda of Nagasaki University. He added that "having an active level-four facility is a must to prevent infectious diseases" and develop vaccines and treatments.