Daily Archives: June 2, 2021

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now – Reuters

Posted: June 2, 2021 at 5:55 am

People wearing face masks cross a road amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia

Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Australia's Victoria extends Melbourne lockdown for 2nd week

Australia's Victoria state on Wednesday extended a snap COVID-19 lockdown for a second week in Melbourne in a bid to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious virus strain first detected in India, but will ease some restrictions in other regions.

Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, was plunged into lockdown last Thursday, initially until June 3, after the first locally acquired cases were detected in three months, infections rose steadily and close contacts reached several thousand. read more

WHO approves Sinovac COVID shot

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it has approved a COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech for emergency use listing, paving the way for a second Chinese shot to be used in poor countries. A WHO emergency listing is a signal to national regulators of a product's safety and efficacy and will allow the Sinovac shot to be included in COVAX, the global programme providing vaccines mainly for poor countries, which face major supply problems due to curbs on Indian exports.

The WHO's independent panel of experts said in a statement it recommended Sinovac's vaccine for adults over 18. There was no upper age limit as data suggested it is likely to have a protective effect in older people. The endorsement is a big boost for Sinovac's vaccine after data in clinical trials showed a wide range of efficacy rates. read more

Israel sees probable link between Pfizer vaccine and myocarditis cases

Israel's Health Ministry said on Tuesday it found a small number of heart inflammation cases observed mainly in young men who received Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in Israel were likely linked to their vaccination. Pfizer has said it has not observed a higher rate of the condition, known as myocarditis, than would normally be expected in the general population.

Most patients who experienced heart inflammation spent no more than four days in hospital and 95% of the cases were classified as mild, according to the study, which the ministry said was conducted by three teams of experts. read more

UK reports no new deaths for 1st time since March 2020

Britain recorded no new deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on Tuesday.

The last time Britain recorded no deaths was in March 2020, before the country had entered its first lockdown. The figure on Tuesday relates to how many deaths have been reported and it comes after a national holiday on Monday - a factor which has in the past skewed the data. read more

China reports 24 new COVID-19 cases

China on Wednesday reported 24 new coronavirus cases on the mainland for June 1, versus 23 a day earlier, the country's health authority said. Of the new infections, 14 were imported, the National Health Commission said in a statement. The 10 local cases were all reported in southern Guangdong province.

There were no new deaths. Guangzhou city, the epicentre of the latest local virus flare-up in China, has reported 41 locally confirmed cases between May 21 and June 1. read more

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WHO asks for re-checks of research on when coronavirus first surfaced in Italy – Reuters

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Samples from a study suggesting the coronavirus was circulating outside China by October 2019 have been re-tested at the World Health Organization's (WTO) request, two scientists who led the Italian research said.

There is growing international pressure to learn more about the origins of the pandemic that has killed more than 3 million people worldwide and U.S. President Joe Biden last week ordered his aides to find answers.

The WHO said on Friday experts were preparing a proposal on the next studies to be carried out into the origins of the virus, but that there was no set timeline. [nL2N2ND20N] read more

The UN body reacted to Biden's announcement that intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories, including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China, by saying the search was being "poisoned by politics". read more

COVID-19 was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, while Italy's first patient was detected on Feb. 21 last year in a small town near Milan.

However, a study published last year suggested antibodies to either the virus or a variant were detected in Italy in 2019.

That prompted Chinese state media to suggest the virus might not have originated in China, although the Italian researchers stressed the findings raised questions about when the virus first emerged rather than where.

"The WHO asked us if we could share the biological material and if we could re-run the tests in an independent laboratory. We accepted," Giovanni Apolone, scientific director of one of the lead institutions, the Milan Cancer Institute (INT), said.

The WHO's request has not previously been reported.

"WHO is in contact with the researchers that had published the original paper. A collaboration with partner laboratories has been set up for further testing," a WHO spokesman said.

The spokesman said the WHO was aware that the researchers are planning to publish a follow-up report "in the near future".

He said the UN agency has contacted all researchers who have published or provided information on samples collected in 2019 that were reported to have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, but does not yet have the final interpretation of the results.

The Italian researchers' findings, published by the INT's scientific magazine Tumori Journal, showed neutralising antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in blood taken from healthy volunteers in Italy in October 2019 during a lung cancer screening trial.

Most of the volunteers were from Lombardy, the northern region around Milan, which was the first and hardest hit by the virus in Italy.

"None of the studies published so far have ever questioned the geographical origin," Apolone told Reuters.

"The growing doubt is that the virus, probably less powerful compared to later months, was circulating in China long before the reported cases," Apolone added.


The WHO chose the laboratory of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam for the re-test, Emanuele Montomoli, co-author of the original study and professor of Public Health at the Molecular Medicine Department in the University of Siena, said.

The Erasmus University did not reply to requests for comment.

Italian researchers sent the team in Rotterdam 30 biological samples from October-December 2019 that they had found positive, 30 samples from the same period they had tested negative and 30 samples from as far back as 2018, negative.

"We sent them blind, that means our colleagues did not know which samples were positive and which negative," Apolone said.

"They rechecked our samples with commercial tests, which are much less sensitive than the ones we devised and validated," Montomoli said.

Despite the differences in the two detection methods, both Italian scientists said they were satisfied with the results, delivered to them in late February, adding that they could not comment further until the team of Italian and Dutch scientists have published their findings.

"We did not say in our study that we could establish without a doubt that the coronavirus, later sequenced in Wuhan, was already circulating in Italy in October," Montomoli said.

"We only found the response to the virus, namely the antibodies. So we can say that this coronavirus or a very similar one, perhaps a less transmissible variant, was circulating here in October," he added.

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Coronavirus tracker: Orange County reported 50 new cases and no new deaths as of June 1 – OCRegister

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The OC Health Care Agency reported 50 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, June 1, increasing the cumulative total in the county to 255,291 cases since tracking began.

Tuesdays update reflects data reported to the agency for Monday, the Memorial Day holiday, and for Tuesday.

There were 409 new infections reported in the last 14 days. That is down from a 14-day average of 655 cases one week ago.

No new deaths were reported Tuesday, keeping the total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 5,065.

The data on deaths in the county is compiled from death certificates or gathered through the course of case investigations and can take weeks to process. The most recent death recorded was on May 16.

There were 63 people with confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Orange County hospitals on Tuesday.

The California Department of Public Healths vaccines dashboard said more than 3,127,299 million vaccine doses have been distributed in Orange County as of Monday.

The county update said 3,928,158 tests have been given for the coronavirus since testing began locally, with at least 7,756 new tests since the previous report.

Of the cumulative 5,065 deaths reported from the virus, 1,120 were skilled nursing facility residents, 579 were in assisted living facilities, one was an O.C. jail inmate and 12 were listed as homeless.

The countys breakdown of deaths by age is as follows:

17 and younger: 0.02% (1)18-24: 0.16% (8)25-34: 1.13% (57)35-44: 2.21% (112)45-54: 6.36% (322)55-64: 14.27% (723)65-74: 19.29% (977)75-84: 24.64% (1,248)85 and older: 31.92% (1,617)

It is estimated 249,069 people have recovered from the virus as of Tuesday. The count of people who have recovered is based on the prior 28-day cumulative case count.

Data posted each day is preliminary and subject to change, officials emphasize. More information may become available as individual case investigations are completed.

You can find the Orange County Health Care Agency dashboard here.

Orange County hospitalizations and ICU patients:

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Southeast Asia’s coronavirus surge prompts shutdowns and alarm – Reuters

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A sharp rise in coronavirus cases from new variants in parts of Southeast Asia that had been less affected by the pandemic has prompted new restrictions, factory closures and attempts to rapidly scale up vaccination programmes across the region.

The number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Malaysia has soared past India's on a per capita basis, while total cases in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and East Timor have all more than doubled in the past month.

Thailand, which was the second country to record infections after China, had won plaudits for containing its first wave of cases, but its death toll has risen ten-fold over two months - though at just over 1,000 is still low by global standards.

Adding to concerns, Vietnamese officials revealed the discovery over the weekend of a "very dangerous" combination of Indian and UK COVID-19 variants, which spreads quickly by air.

"COVID-19 infection rates are very alarming in countries across Southeast Asia," Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific Director, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters. "The more dangerous and deadly variants highlight the urgent need for much faster global sharing and manufacture of vaccines to contain this outbreak and to help avoid huge mass casualties."

In the absence of vaccines, containment is the priority.

Vietnam crushed earlier waves - and the country of 98 million has still suffered fewer than 50 deaths - but new distancing measures started in its business hub Ho Chin Minh City on Monday. read more

In the north of the country, factories supplying global tech firms such as Apple and Samsung are operating below capacity because of outbreaks, industry sources said.

Thailand's largest agribusiness, Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl closed a poultry factory for five days after workers tested positive for COVID-19. Thousands more cases have been found at factories, construction sites and prisons.

As Malaysia ordered a "total lockdown" from Tuesday to stem the spread, officials said some factories could keep operating at reduced capacity. read more


Malaysia has tried to step up its vaccination campaign, but fewer than 6% of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine - barely half the proportion in India.

Some Southeast Asian countries had placed less emphasis on vaccine procurement than Western countries or simply could not afford them and now have limited access.

"With a smaller segment of the population that is protected from vaccination, the vast majority of the population remains susceptible," said Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

"The healthcare systems in several Southeast Asian countries are either at risk of being or already have been completely overwhelmed."

Only the wealthy city state of Singapore has comparable vaccination rates to Western countries with over 36% getting at least one injection, but the appearance of cases from new variants there has also prompted new closures this month.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was due to outline a stragegy for opening up the country, whose economy depends on its place as a regional business and transport hub.

"The solution: testing, contact tracing, and vaccinating, all faster, and more," Lee said.

Health officials are also watching closely for any resurgence in Indonesia and the Philippines, the region's two most populous countries, which were both hit hard by the pandemic last year.

The Philippines recorded its highest number of daily infections in four weeks on Friday. Indonesia's seven-day average of new cases reached its highest in more than two months on Sunday.

A surge of cases has also been reported near Myanmar's Indian border - raising concerns about a health system that has collapsed since a Feb. 1 coup. read more

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Coronavirus: Heres how much of California is fully vaccinated and the tier assignments as of June 1 – LA Daily News

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As of Tuesday, June 1, the California Department of Public Healths vaccine dashboard showed about 46.2 million doses have been shipped throughout the state (1 million more than a week ago) and of those, 37.5 million have been administered.

Vaccinations in California

According to Bloombergs dashboard tracking vaccine distribution, 57% of Californias population has received at least one shot and 44.3% of residents are fully vaccinated (up from 41.7% a week ago). California has the highest daily rate of doses administered in the country at 163,850 down from 258,249 a week ago). The second-highest rate belongs to Texas with 97,462. California was administering about 350,000 doses per day a month ago.

Los Angeles (9.52 million), San Diego (3.42 million) and Orange (3.1 million) counties have administered the most doses to date in California.

Fully vaccinated by county

The chart below compiled by George Karbassis on the website ncovtrack.com shows the percentage of residents in each California county who have had at least one shot or are fully vaccinated. State, nation and world data is compiled on the site as well.

According to ncovtrack.com these are the percentages at which Southern California counties are fully vaccinated:

Los Angeles: 42.8%

San Diego: 47.11%

Orange: 44.09%

Riverside: 34.69%

San Bernardino: 31.56%

The map below is from the California Department of Public Healths COVID-19 vaccinations dashboard and shows vaccinations by ZIP code. Click on the image to go to the site. It may take a few minutes to load.

Vaccinations by age in California:

Data is update once a week on Wednesdays.

Tier assignments as of June 1

On April 6, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to fully reopen Californias economy on June 15 if current COVID-19 trends hold. California would end its four-colored tier system at that point. Newsom has since said Californias mask mandate might be lifted on June 15 as well.

Until then, the state continues to make weekly adjustments to its tier system and, based on Tuesdays update changes take effect Wednesday none of Californias 58 counties remain in the purple tier (considered widespread risk). There will be 4 counties in the red tier (four less than a week ago); 35 counties in the orange tier (moderate risk, the same as week ago); and 19 in the yellow tier (minimal risk, four more than a week ago). There were just seven counties in the yellow tier a month ago.

On Nov. 24, the state had 41 counties in purple, 11 counties in red, four in orange, two in yellow.

Counties are assigned to a tier based on metrics showing the speed and the spread of the virus in their borders.

The states progression in tiers since Sept. 22:

Here are the California county vaccination totals as of June 1:

Here are the California county vaccination totals as of May 25:

Here are the California county vaccination totals as of May 4:

Here are the California county vaccination totals as of April 13:

Here are the California county vaccination totals as of April 6:

Here are the California county vaccination totals as of Feb. 22:

Sources: covid19ca.gov, California Department of Public Health, U.S. Census, U.S.D.A, California State Association of Counties

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‘Lab Leak’ Probe Welcomed But Many Scientists Still Believe It’s A Natural Virus : Goats and Soda – NPR

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President Biden directed the intelligence agencies to look for evidence of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (pictured). Many scientists still think its more likely the virus came form the wild. Hector Retamal /AFP via Getty Images hide caption

President Biden directed the intelligence agencies to look for evidence of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (pictured). Many scientists still think its more likely the virus came form the wild.

This week, President Biden directed his intelligence agencies to take another look at whether the coronavirus resulted from a lab accident in China. For many, the announcement felt like a big change, putting what had been a conspiracy theory about the virus's origins back on the table.

But not much has changed for Robert Garry, a microbiologist at Tulane University who has analyzed the genome of the coronavirus. "Nothing's really tipped me or made me flip-flop or anything about it," he says. "I'm more convinced than ever that this is a natural virus."

Garry and many other scientists, including the President's chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, continue to believe the preponderance of evidence points toward a natural source. That's been the case for every previous disease known to infect humans.

Nevertheless, this week's announcement has created room for what some researchers hope can be a more balanced discussion of the possibility of a laboratory accident. "I think it opens the door for other scientists to weigh in without being called conspiracy theorists," says Alina Chan, a geneticist at MIT's Broad Institute who has long argued for the laboratory theory to be more thoroughly considered.

A natural origin would be more in line with what's come in the past. "The historical basis for pandemics evolving naturally from an animal reservoir is extremely strong," Fauci told senators at a hearing earlier this week. Ebola, HIV and the major influenza viruses all came from nature, he said.

In the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Garry sees parallels to another natural outbreak. Most of the first reported cases of this virus were in wet markets in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Wet markets were also central to the outbreak of the original SARS virus, which began spreading in the early 2000s.

Back then, the virus was traced quickly. "People got lucky," he says. "They were able to identify the restaurants the first cases ate at, and then go back to the wildlife farms where they'd bought the civets as it turns out." Those civets had been infected by bats.

The fact that nobody's pinpointed the source for the new coronavirus isn't particularly unusual, adds Garry. It can take years to figure out a source; the natural source of the Ebola virus remains a mystery, for example. But he thinks it's out there: "It's just a matter of time before we find the progenitor in a bat or some other species."

Ian Lipkin, at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, is another researcher who's taken a hard look at the genetics of this virus. He says that there's no evidence for human manipulation. In fact, the way the virus infects people is so quirky, he thinks it couldn't have been made in a lab.

"We would not have known how to design this virus, even if we had wanted to do so," he says. "When I say 'we,' I really do mean the scientific community, whether we mean scientists in Europe or the U.S. or China, for that matter."

But he adds, it is still possible that a scientist in China could have found the coronavirus in nature and that a lab accident ensued. "It's possible that the virus was brought into the laboratory, that it was grown inside a cell line, that somebody became infected and left the laboratory inadvertently and carried the virus with them."

The laboratory in question, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has collected viruses from bats in the field and has published some of the genetic sequences. So far, none have matched SARS-CoV-2.

Nevertheless, "both scenarios are still on the table," says geneticist Chan. Chan says she herself hasn't reached any conclusions about whether a lab is responsible: "There's nothing that's a smoking gun," she says.

The intelligence community is also unsure. In a brief statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that the nation's intelligence agencies believed both a lab accident and a natural outbreak were possibilities.

Most agencies did not reach a conclusion, while two supported the natural cause theory and one the lab leak with "low/medium confidence." That could mean that the intel is based on just a few sources, or on sources that are unreliable, says Eric Brewer, a former National Security Council staffer now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The bottom line is that there's a lot of uncertainty," he says.

Former President Trump frequently mentioned the lab leak theory without providing evidence, and Chan says that gave the discussion a political taint: "I was compared to insurrectionists and Qanon" for raising the possibility, she says.

She and other scientists had hoped a World Health Organization mission to China earlier this year might conduct a more serious examination of the theory. But it fell far short of her expectations because China obstructed investigators. "They always had to be chaperoned by people from the government, they were always being monitored," she says.

Chan was one of more than a dozen scientists who signed on to a letter in the journal Science calling for a more open look at the possibility the virus came from a lab. She welcomes the intelligence review that Biden ordered and believes it may be the only way, at this stage, to gather evidence on the origins of the coronavirus. "Will China suddenly become one of the most transparent countries on earth?" she says. "I cannot imagine how that will happen."

In the end, all three scientists agree that the available evidence is far from conclusive, and all welcome further investigation. The question of where the virus came from needs to be answered, says Chan. "Our lives depend on finding out how this virus got started," she says, "so we can prevent another one from getting started five to 10 years from now."

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Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years, Scientists Find – The New York Times

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Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.

Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.

Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.

The other study, posted online at BioRxiv, a site for biology research, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.

The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived, said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research.

The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds. But those viruses change significantly every few years, Dr. Hensley said. The reason we get infected with common coronaviruses repetitively throughout life might have much more to do with variation of these viruses rather than immunity, he said.

In fact, memory B cells produced in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and enhanced with vaccination are so potent that they thwart even variants of the virus, negating the need for boosters, according to Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who led the study on memory maturation.

People who were infected and get vaccinated really have a terrific response, a terrific set of antibodies, because they continue to evolve their antibodies, Dr. Nussenzweig said. I expect that they will last for a long time.

The result may not apply to protection derived from vaccines alone, because immune memory is likely to be organized differently after immunization, compared with that following natural infection.

That means people who have not had Covid-19 and have been immunized may eventually need a booster shot, Dr. Nussenzweig said. Thats the kind of thing that we will know very, very soon, he said.

Upon first encountering a virus, B cells rapidly proliferate and produce antibodies in large amounts. Once the acute infection is resolved, a small number of the cells take up residence in the bone marrow, steadily pumping out modest levels of antibodies.

To look at memory B cells specific to the new coronavirus, researchers led by Ali Ellebedy of Washington University in St. Louis analyzed blood from 77 people at three-month intervals, starting about a month after their infection with the coronavirus. Only six of the 77 had been hospitalized for Covid-19; the rest had mild symptoms.

Antibody levels in these individuals dropped rapidly four months after infection and continued to decline slowly for months afterward results that are in line with those from other studies.

Some scientists have interpreted this decrease as a sign of waning immunity, but it is exactly whats expected, other experts said. If blood contained high quantities of antibodies to every pathogen the body had ever encountered, it would quickly transform into a thick sludge.

Instead, blood levels of antibodies fall sharply following acute infection, while memory B cells remain quiescent in the bone marrow, ready to take action when needed.

Dr. Ellebedys team obtained bone marrow samples from 19 people roughly seven months after they had been infected. Fifteen had detectable memory B cells, but four did not, suggesting that some people might carry very few of the cells or none at all.

It tells me that even if you got infected, it doesnt mean that you have a super immune response, Dr. Ellebedy said. The findings reinforce the idea that people who have recovered from Covid-19 should be vaccinated, he said.

Five of the participants in Dr. Ellebedys study donated bone marrow samples seven or eight months after they were initially infected and again four months later. He and his colleagues found that the number of memory B cells remained stable over that time.

The results are particularly noteworthy because it is difficult to get bone marrow samples, said Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the work.

A landmark study in 2007 showed that antibodies in theory could survive decades, perhaps even well beyond the average life span, hinting at the long-term presence of memory B cells. But the new study offered a rare proof of their existence, Dr. Gommerman said.

Dr. Nussenzweigs team looked at how memory B cells mature over time. The researchers analyzed blood from 63 people who had recovered from Covid-19 about a year earlier. The vast majority of the participants had mild symptoms, and 26 had also received at least one dose of either the Moderna or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

So-called neutralizing antibodies, needed to prevent reinfection with the virus, remained unchanged between six and 12 months, while related but less important antibodies slowly disappeared, the team found.

As memory B cells continued to evolve, the antibodies they produced developed the ability to neutralize an even broader group of variants. This ongoing maturation may result from a small piece of the virus that is sequestered by the immune system for target practice, so to speak.

A year after infection, neutralizing activity in the participants who had not been vaccinated was lower against all forms of the virus, with the greatest loss seen against the variant first identified in South Africa.

Vaccination significantly amplified antibody levels, confirming results from other studies; the shots also ramped up the bodys neutralizing ability by about 50-fold.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said on Sunday that he would not get a coronavirus vaccine because he had been infected in March of last year and was therefore immune.

But there is no guarantee that such immunity will be powerful enough to protect him for years, particularly given the emergence of variants of the coronavirus that can partially sidestep the bodys defenses.

The results of Dr. Nussenzweigs study suggest that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who have later been vaccinated will continue to have extremely high levels of protection against emerging variants, even without receiving a vaccine booster down the line.

It kind of looks exactly like what we would hope a good memory B cell response would look like, said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the new research.

The experts all agreed that immunity is likely to play out very differently in people who have never had Covid-19. Fighting a live virus is different from responding to a single viral protein introduced by a vaccine. And in those who had Covid-19, the initial immune response had time to mature over six to 12 months before being challenged by the vaccine.

Those kinetics are different than someone who got immunized and then gets immunized again three weeks later, Dr. Pepper said. Thats not to say that they might not have as broad a response, but it could be very different.

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Biden Orders Intelligence Inquiry Into Origins of the Coronavirus – The New York Times

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The intelligence on the three workers came from outside the United States intelligence agencies own collection, which means its veracity is more difficult to authenticate. The source of the information was unclear, but several American officials said they believed the report that the three researchers got sick.

American intelligence officials do not know whether the lab workers contracted Covid-19 or some other disease, like a bad flu. If they did have the coronavirus, the intelligence may suggest that they could have become sick from the lab, but it also could simply mean that the virus was circulating in Wuhan earlier than the Chinese government has acknowledged.

Also toward the end of Mr. Trumps term, State Department officials began examining the origins of the virus and concluded that it was highly unlikely to have appeared naturally and thus was likely the product of laboratory work.

CNN first reported the effort and suggested that the groups efforts had been shut down by the Biden administration, prompting scathing Republican criticism. A State Department spokesman, Ned Price, denied that, saying that the teams findings were briefed to senior officials in the departments arms control bureau in February and March.

With the report delivered, the work was ended, Mr. Price said.

Mr. Trump issued a statement on Tuesday boasting of his early insistence that the Wuhan lab was the source of the virus. To me, it was obvious from the beginning, he said. But I was badly criticized, as usual.

Despite the absence of new evidence, a number of scientists have lately begun speaking out about the need to remain open to the possibility that the virus had accidentally emerged from a lab, perhaps after it was collected in nature, a lab origin distinct from a creation by scientists.

It is most likely that this is a virus that arose naturally, but we cannot exclude the possibility of some kind of a lab accident, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told senators on Wednesday.

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Russian military forming 20 new units to counter NATO …

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The Russian military on Tuesday said thatit will form 20 new units to counter a growing threatfrom NATO, The Associated Press reported.

An increased number of U.S. strategic bomber flights, the deployment of NATO warships and military drills by NATO allieswere among the reasonsRussian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave for the country's decision to beef up its military forces.

We will form another 20 units and formations in the Western Military District until the years end, Shoiguannouncedduringa Tuesday meeting with other top military officials.

Thousands of NATO troops with several warships and dozens of aircraft are currently taking part in exercises that stretch through the European region, according to the AP, whichShoigu saiddestroy the international security system and force us to take the relevant countermeasures.

NATO saidthat these exercises aren't a part of war games with Russia butare to preparea response toany attack on any one of its members.

However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that Russia itself has invested in new military weapons and iswilling to usethemagainst neighboring countries like Georgia and Ukraine.

This is one of the main reasons why NATO over the last years has increased the readiness of [its] armed forces, Stoltenberg said, according tothe AP.

Russiahas backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region, a conflict that has led to the deaths of 14,000 people, after annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia recently recalled troops that were stationed in the western part of the peninsula in April.

Shoigu said that the country will add those new units to theirits existing Western Military District by the end of 2021, according to the AP. He also noted thatthatmilitary units have commissioned 2,000 pieces of weaponry in 2021.

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Russia to form 20 new military units in west to counter NATO

Posted: at 5:54 am

MOSCOW (AP) The Russian military will form 20 new units in the country's west this year to counter what it claims is a growing threat from NATO.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the announcement Monday at a meeting with top military officials. He pointed to a growing number of flights by U.S. strategic bombers near Russia's borders, deployments of NATO warships and increasingly frequent and massive drills by alliance forces.

He charged that such actions destroy the international security system and force us to take the relevant countermeasures."

We will form another 20 units and formations in the Western Military District until the year's end, Shoigu said

He added the military units in Western Russia have commissioned about 2,000 new pieces of weaponry this year.

Last month, a massive troop buildup in Russias south and southwest near the Ukrainian border raised concerns in Ukraine and the West, which urged Moscow to withdraw its forces.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ouster of the country's Moscow-friendly president and then threw its weight behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has recalled some troops from its western part after sweeping maneuvers in April, but Shoigu ordered them to leave their weapons behind for Russia's Zapad (West) 2021 military exercises in September.

He noted Monday that preparations for the exercises, which will be conducted jointly with Belarus, are now in their final stage and emphasized that the maneuvers have an exclusively defensive character.

Last week, Russia offered political support to its ally Belarus, which diverted a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on a ruse to arrest a dissident journalist. The European Union denounced the flight's diversion as piracy and responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its airspace and advising European airlines to skirt Belarus' airspace.

Russia to form 20 new military units in west to counter NATO

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