World Health Organization SARS-CoV-2 Guidance – Biosafety Updates

Authors: Kalpana Rengarajan, PhD, Director Research Safety, EHSO & Rashida Moore, DVM, DACLAM, Assistant Director, EHSO/Asc Staff Vet Scientist, EPC

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published interim guidance on laboratory biosafety related to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).  The guidance includes updated recommendations for research and shipping procedures and reflects the latest SARS-CoV-2 scientific knowledge.  The guidance discusses topics including risk assessments, routine laboratory procedures, viral isolation and propagation, disinfectants, and waste management.  Two notable highlights are:

  • Propagative work (for example, virus culture, neutralization assays, or animal studies) should only be conducted following a careful local risk assessment and should be conducted using heightened control measures, which correspond to Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) or higher (for example, in the case of variants of concern (VOC) with unknown biological profiles).
  • Handling high concentrations of live SARS-CoV-2 virus variants that are variants of interest (VOI) or variants of concern (VOC) or emerging strains without a known biological profile (such as when performing virus propagation, virus isolation, neutralization assays, and laboratory animal inoculation experiments) or large volumes of infectious materials should be performed only by adequately trained and competent personnel in laboratories meeting heightened control measures and practices which are based on a thorough risk assessment and correspond to Biological Safety Level 3 laboratories (BSL-3).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Cultures of SARS-CoV-2 should be handled in a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory using BSL-3 practices, and inoculation of animals with infectious wild-type SARS-CoV-2 should be conducted in an Animal Biosafety Level 3 (ABSL-3) facility using ABSL-3 practices and respiratory protection.  The CDC has not changed their SARS-CoV-19 Biosafety Guidelines since the last update on December 13th, 2021.  As Emory University’s Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) adheres to CDC Guidelines and recommendations, there are no changes to our current research procedures for COVID-19 work.  Please contact the Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHSO), Biosafety Officer with any questions at


  • CDC Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • WHO Laboratory biosafety guidance related to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19): Interim guidance, 11 March 2024

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