A French research lab in Paris announced more than 2,300 vials of the deadly coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have gone missing from its inventory.
A routine check at the Pasteur Institute found that 2,349 tubes containing fragments of the coronavirus, which killed nearly 800 people in 2002, are gone.
The Pasteur Institute’s general director, Christian Bréchot, said foul play is “highly probable.”
But the institute assured the public that the contents in the tubes are only parts of the virus and can’t infect others.
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“The tubes concerned have no infectious potential,” the institute said in a statement. "Independent experts referred by health authorities have qualified such potential as 'non-existing' according to the available evidence and literature on the survival of the Sars virus.”
The lab from which the vials disappeared is considered one of the institute’s safest. Only a restricted number of personnel are allowed to go into the lab and they must go through a decontamination process before leaving.
Management was made aware of the missing vials in January and staff has been looking for them for months, Bréchot said.
"We've looked for those boxes [containing the tubes] everywhere," Bréchot explained. "We went thought the lists of all the people who have worked here in the past year and a half, including trainees. We have scrutinised their profile to check if there was any conflict."
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Bréchot hopes the tubes were destroyed by staff, who simply forgot to record the procedure.