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Why the US is investigating lab leak theory to unwind Covid-19 starting points

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Why the US is investigating lab leak theory to disentangle Covid-19 starting points. Once dismissed by most public health experts and government officials, the hypothesis that Covid-19 leaked accidentally from a Chinese lab is now receiving scrutiny under another US investigation.

Experts say the 90-day review ordered on May 26 by President Joe Biden will push American intelligence agencies to collect more information and review what they already have. Former State Department officials under President Donald Trump have publicly pushed for further investigation into virus starting points, as have scientists and the World Health Organization.

Many scientists, including Dr Anthony Fauci, say they still believe the virus most likely occurred in nature and jumped from animals to humans. Virus researchers have not publicly identified any key new scientific evidence that might make the lab-leak hypothesis more likely.

Virologists also say it is improbable that any definitive answer about virus starting points will be possible in 90 days. The work to completely confirm starting points and pathways of past viruses — like the first SARS or HIV/AIDS — has taken years or decades.

A glance at what is known about the US investigation of the virus.

Biden ordered a review of what the White House said was an initial discovering leading to “two likely situations,” an animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak. The White House statement says two agencies in the 18-member intelligence community lean toward the hypothesis of a transmission in nature; another agency inclines toward a lab leak.

One document drawing new attention is a State Department fact sheet published in the last days of Trump’s administration. The reminder notes that the US believes three researchers at a Wuhan, China, lab sought medical treatment for a respiratory sickness in November 2019. Be that as it may, the report isn’t conclusive: The beginning and severity of the staffers’ ailment isn’t known — and most people in China regularly go to hospitals, not primary-care doctors, for routine care.

The notice also pointed to “gain of function” studies — which in theory could upgrade the lethality or transmissibility of a virus — allegedly done at the Wuhan lab with US backing. Notwithstanding, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins has since adamantly denied that the US supported any “acquire of-function” research on coronaviruses in Wuhan.

David Feith, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under Trump, said he supported Biden’s call for an enhanced review. “Implicit in the president’s statement is that there is more to dissect and more to collect than has been analyzed or collected to date,” Feith said.

The Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Is China hampering investigations?

The White House statement criticized China for a lack of transparency, repeating previous criticisms by Democrats and Republicans. “The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will consistently hamper any investigation into the beginning of Covid – 19,” the White House said.

The Associated Press has reported on China’s interference in the World Health Organization’s probes of the virus and its fanning of conspiracy theories online. China has also forced journalists to leave the country in recent years and silenced or jailed whistleblowers from Wuhan and elsewhere.

The lack of transparency in China is a significant and recognizable challenge. But that doesn’t in itself signal that something in particular is being hidden.

“The problem is the point at which you make that announcement (Biden’s call for investigation) in a highly politicized environment, it makes it even more uncertain that China will cooperate with efforts to discover the beginnings of the virus,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior individual for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

What do scientists believe about virus origins?

The most compelling argument for investigating the possibility of a lab leak isn’t any new hard evidence, but rather the fact that another pathway for virus spread has not been 100 per cent confirmed.

“The great probability is still that this virus came from a wildlife reservoir,” said Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatchewan, Canada. He pointed to the fact that spillover events when viruses jump from animals to humans are common in nature, and that scientists already know of two comparable beta coronaviruses that evolved in bats and caused epidemics when humans were infected, SARS1 and MERS.

Notwithstanding, the case isn’t completely closed. “There are probabilities, and there are possibilities,” said Banerjee. “Because nobody has identified a virus that’s 100 per cent identical to SARS-CoV-2 in any animal, there is still room for researchers to get some information about other possibilities.”

How long does it take to confirm the origin of a virus?

Confirming with 100 per cent certainty the beginning of a virus is often not fast, easy, or in every case even possible.

For instance, scientists never confirmed the beginning of smallpox before the disease was eradicated through a global vaccination program.

On account of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) a disease caused by a beta coronavirus, similar to the current coronavirus researchers first identified the virus in February 2003. Later that year, scientists discovered the conceivable intermediary hosts: Himalayan palm civets found at live-animal markets in Guangdong, China. But it wasn’t until 2017 that researchers traced the reasonable unique source of the virus to bat collapses China’s Yunnan province.

How important is it to understand the origin?

From a scientific perspective, researchers are consistently quick to better understand how diseases develop. From a public health perspective, if a virus has transitioned to being spread mostly by human-to-human contact, discovering its beginnings isn’t as essential to strategies for containing the disease.

“Questions of beginnings and questions of disease control are not exactly the same thing once human-to-human transmission has become common,” said Deborah Seligsohn, an expert in environment and public health at Villanova University.

Republicans have pressed for more investigations into a possible lab leak as part of a broader effort to blame China and vindicate Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Almost 600,000 people in the United States have died of Covid-19, the highest toll of any country.

What happens after the 90 days?

Many scientists caution that it’s impossible a 90-day investigation will yield definitive new answers.

“We rarely get a ‘conclusive evidence,'” said Stephen Morse, a disease researcher at Columbia University. “Much under the best of circumstances we rarely get certainty, just degrees of probability.”

Any discoveries will probably be politically explosive, especially if new evidence comes to light supporting or dismissing the zoonotic transfer or lab-leak theory. And a failure to reach definitive conclusions, almost inevitable after a 90-day review, could provide grist for Trump supporters and opponents the same, just as embolden conspiracy theorists.

In the mean-time experts like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Huang suspect China may essentially clamp down more, adding another complication to already tense relations. “This will probably make it considerably more challenging to extract concessions from China to allow another team to visit Wuhan, or have unfettered access to investigate there,” he said.

Covid19

Covid-19 Delta variant cases jump by 33,630 of every multi week in UK, now make up 99% of country’s cases

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The number of Delta variant infections has jumped by 33,630 in seven days to hit a total of 75,953 in the UK, with the highly transmissible variant first identified in India now making up 99 per cent of all Covid-19 cases in the country, health officials said on Friday.

Public Health England (PHE), which has been tracking variant of concerns (VOCs) on a weekly basis, said its data shows an increased risk of hospitalization with Delta VOC compared to Alpha the VOC first detected in the Kent region of England.

It also pointed to its previous discoveries that two portions of a Covid vaccine gives a “high degree of protection” against hospitalization from the Delta variant.

“PHE’s weekly Covid-19 variant cases data show that numbers of the Delta variant in the UK have ascended by 33,630 since last week to a total of 75,953,” PHE reports.

INCREASED RISK OF Hospitalization

“The most recent data show 99 per cent of sequenced and genotyped cases across the country are the Delta variant. Data show an increased risk of hospitalization with Delta compared to Alpha, although PHE’s analysis shows that two dosages of vaccine gives a high degree of protection against hospitalization, estimated to be more than 90 per cent,” it said.

According to the analysis, as of June 14, a total of 806 people have been hospitalized with the Delta variant, an increase of 423 since last week. Of these, 527 were unvaccinated, and only 84 of the 806 had received both portions.

It finds that deaths are not high, as the case fatality rate remains low for Delta.

Notwithstanding, it points out that deaths tend to happen some weeks after an infection and it is therefore too ahead of schedule to judge the case fatality of Delta compared to Alpha or other VOCs.

“DON’T DROP YOUR GUARD”

“Cases are rising quickly across the country and the Delta variant is now dominant,” said Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

“The increase is fundamentally in younger age groups, a large proportion of which were unvaccinated but are now being invited to receive the vaccine. It is urging to see that hospitalisations and deaths are not increasing at a similar rate but we will continue to monitor it closely,” she said.

“The vaccination program and the care that we are generally taking to follow the direction are continuing to save lives. If it’s not too much trouble, ensure that you approach to receive both portions of the vaccine when you are eligible. Don’t drop your gatekeeper practice ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ at all times,” she added.

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Israel says it will transfer around 1 million dosages of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccine portions to the Palestinian Authority.

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Under the agreement announced Friday, the PA will transfer portions to Israel once it receives them from an UN-backed program to supply vaccines to needy countries.

Israel, which has vaccinated some 85 per cent of its adult population, has faced criticism for not imparting its vaccines to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The agreement was announced by the new Israeli government that was sworn in on Sunday.

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Global failure to share vaccines equitably impacting world’s most vulnerable countries: WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said that “global failure to share vaccines equitably” is fuelling a “two-track” Covid-19 pandemic, impacting some of world’s most vulnerable countries.

Taking up the issue of global disparities in distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, WHO said that countries like India and Nepal have suffered because of less dosages of the vaccine.

“Our global targets are to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 per cent by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by the center of next year. These are the critical milestones we must reach together to end the Covid-19 pandemic,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

He went on to say that more than half of all high upper-center pay countries and economies have by now administered enough dosages to completely vaccinate at least 20 per cent of their populations, while just three out of 79 low-and lower-center pay countries have reached a similar level.

Earlier this week, the Group of Seven leaders (G-7) intend to end their first summit in two years with a punchy set of promises Sunday, including vaccinating the world against coronavirus.

The G-7 vowed to share vaccine dosages with less well-off nations that urgently need them. UK PM Boris Johnson said the group would pledge at least 1 billion dosages, with half of that coming from the United States and 100 million from Britain.

While WHO Director-General Tedros commended the vaccine pledge, he also said that it was “not enough”.

To truly end the pandemic, he said, 11 billion dosages are needed to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the world’s population by mid-2022.

“We need more and we need them faster,” Tedros said.

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