National security is paramount to China’s leaders. Under that umbrella the importance of safeguarding public health and maintaining biosecurity is a given. But the deadly coronavirus epidemic that has brought parts of the country to a standstill, and shows few signs of abating at the epicentre, has prompted a rethink, clearly articulated recently by President Xi Jinping. Health and biosecurity are set to become integral parts of national security preparedness for the first time. Addressing a meeting of top leaders, Xi called for fast-tracking of the introduction of a biosecurity law to safeguard national security, along with sweeping improvements to the nation’s health emergency response system. A report by state news agency Xinhua has revealed that a draft of a biosecurity law was submitted to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee last October. It focuses on the security of biological resources, prohibiting the use of biological agents or biotechnology that may harm national security. It also addresses issues such as the prevention of emerging infectious diseases and epidemics, and biosecurity at laboratories, explicitly making public health part of national security. The draft law now turns out to be tragically prescient, given the emergence within less than three months of the coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19. Asian countries anxious over virus, want China flight ban: new poll Thankfully events that seriously test a nation’s biosecurity and public health defences do not come along very often. When they do, as with severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009, they prompt soul-searching about preparedness. The previous outbreaks, however, could not have prepared the authorities for either the scale or speed of the present contagion. It is necessary, therefore, to have a blueprint for meeting challenges in the form of the draft law. It is an opportunity not to be diluted by any further debate among officials. It will lay the legal foundation for a systematic mechanism to safeguard biological diversity and security, including holding officials accountable for non-compliance. It may sound like a bureaucratic solution, but it addresses every aspect of safety and security, including controversial issues such as restrictions on personal freedom. This covers a lot of ground – protection of human life, the environment and health and socioeconomic systems from harm by organisms and modern biotechnology and its applications. And it aims to coordinate different government agencies with diverse responsibilities – an important means of ensuring all relevant officials are on the same page when it comes to biosecurity, health protection and national security.