Sunday 18 April 2021

‘Publishing research about disease-carrying virus needs export permit’

A government ban on the publication of a scientific article about research into manipulating the bird flu virus was correct, a court in Haarlem has decided.

The economic affairs ministry stopped the publication of the report two years ago because of fears the information it contained could be used by terrorists.

Now judges in Haarlem have said this action was correct because publication would have contravened European legislation on the distribution of biological weapons, the Volkskrant reported. The writers therefore needed an export permit.

Key information

Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier, who led the research, looked at how the H5N1 virus could be altered so it can be spread via the air. This information could be used to help stop the spread of the disease.

He wanted to publish the research in the academic publication Science. After publication was stopped, Fouchier applied for an export licence, which he was granted. The publication then went ahead.

Erasmus took the issue to court, saying it was a point of principle for scientific research. Fouchier told the Volkskrant he was ‘stunned’ by the verdict.

The court verdict implies researchers looking into disease-carrying viruses and bacteria will have to apply for an export licence before they can be published in an international paper, the Volkskrant said.

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