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Scientist COVID positive after exposure in Taipei P3 lab

Preliminary assessment is woman contracted Delta variant at Academia Sinica BSL-3 lab in Taipei's Nangang District

CECC head Chen Shih-chung lists locations where COVID case recently visited. (CECC image)

CECC head Chen Shih-chung lists locations where COVID case recently visited. (CECC image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A researcher in a high safety level laboratory in Taipei has tested positive for COVID and may have contracted the disease while experimenting on the virus.

During an emergency press conference on Thursday evening (Dec. 9), Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) confirmed that a female lab researcher in Taipei had tested positive for COVID. Chen identified her as a case No. 16,816, a woman in her 20s who works at Academia Sinica.

Chen said she was "exposed to the pathogen" in mid-November while working at Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center, which contains a P3 (Biosafety Level-3) facility in Taipei's Nangang District. However, he said that she did not experience symptoms early on.

On Nov. 26, she had a slight cough, and her coughing intensified on Dec. 4. She then had problems with her sense of smell and taste on Wednesday (Dec. 8).

That same day, she underwent a PCR test and the result came back positive for COVID on Thursday (Dec. 9). People familiar with the matter told ETtoday that her Ct value was very low, indicating a fresh infection.

The health department has begun contact tracing for more than 85 people who have been listed as contacts thus far. An epidemiological investigation is underway, and places where the woman recently visited are being identified.

CECC Spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said that because the woman had not recently traveled abroad or come in contact with a confirmed case, the preliminary assessment is the woman contracted the disease while experimenting on the virus in the lab. It is therefore being considered a local case, the first in 35 days.

According to Chen, she had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, indicating she will likely be categorized as a breakthrough case. She has been confirmed to have contracted the Delta variant of the virus.

Chuang said this appears to be the first case of a P3 lab staff member infected with COVID in Taiwan.

In addition, CECC advisor Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), who visited Academia Sinica before the press conference, said the woman had been bitten by a mouse in the lab prior to testing positive for COVID. He did not say if that was how she had been infected with the virus.