Daily Archives: August 24, 2021

US ramps up Afghan evacuations after Taliban warn of ‘red line’ – Macau Business

Posted: August 24, 2021 at 10:36 am

US troops ramped up efforts Tuesday to airlift thousands of people out of Kabul, after the Taliban warned they would not allow the United States to extend next weeks deadline for a complete withdrawal.

President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure to go beyond an August 31 deadline he set to pull out American forces, with Britain to lobby at a virtual G7 summit on Tuesday for a longer presence.

About 50,000 foreigners and Afghans have fled the country from Kabuls airport since the Taliban swept into power 10 days ago, according to the US government.

But crowds continued to mass outside the airport, with Afghans terrified of facing life under the Taliban.

Many fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation of sharia law that the Taliban implemented when first in power from 1996 to 2001, or retribution for working with the US-backed government over the past two decades.

The Taliban are the same as they were 20 years ago, Nilofar Bayat, a womens rights activist and former captain of Afghanistans wheelchair basketball team, said after fleeing and arriving in Spain.

If you see Afghanistan now, its all men, there are no women because they dont accept women as part of society.

The Taliban, who ended two decades of war with an astonishingly swift rout of government forces, had been publicly tolerant of the evacuation effort.

But on Monday they described next weeks cut-off date as a red line.

If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations the answer is no there would be consequences, spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News.

He said any foreign military presence beyond the agreed deadline would be extending occupation.

The Taliban achieved their stunning victory thanks to Biden pulling out nearly all American troops from Afghanistan, following through on a deal struck with the Taliban by then-president Donald Trump.

However Biden was forced to redeploy thousands of troops after the fall of Kabul to oversee the airlift.

Biden and his top aides have repeatedly insisted they are aiming to stick to their August 31 deadline.

The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

The focus is on trying to do this as best we can, by the end of the month.

But European leaders are calling for more time.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Prime Minister Boris Johnson would raise the issue at the G7 virtual summit.

Germany also said it was in talks with NATO allies and the Taliban to keep Kabuls airport open for evacuations beyond August 31, while France said additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations.

The rush to leave Kabul has sparked harrowing scenes and left at least eight people dead.

Some have been crushed to death and at least one, a youth football player, died after falling off a plane.

The German defence ministry said Monday an Afghan soldier was killed and three others wounded in a firefight with unknown assailants.

The Taliban are currently working on forming a government, but two sources within the movement told AFP there would be no announcement on a cabinet until the last US soldier has left Afghanistan.

The Taliban have repeatedly claimed to be different from their 1990s incarnation, and have declared an amnesty for government forces and officials.

But an intelligence assessment conducted for the United Nations said militants were going door-to-door hunting former government officials and those who worked with US and NATO forces.

In the capital and other cities, the former insurgents have enforced some sense of calm, with their fighters patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.

We assure the people there are no security issues, if anyone faces any security problem they should come to us, an armed Taliban guard told AFP in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The Taliban are also intent on quashing the last notable Afghan military resistance to their rule, made up of ex-government forces in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital.

The Panjshir has long been known as an anti-Taliban bastion.

One of the leaders of the movement, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Another is Amrullah Saleh, a vice president and head of intelligence in the fallen government.

The Taliban have said they have massed forces outside the valley, but would prefer a negotiated end to the stand-off.

by David FOX

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Brunei reports first virus deaths in over a year – Macau Business

Posted: at 10:36 am

Brunei reported two coronavirus deaths Tuesday, the first fatalities from Covid-19 in the Southeast Asian nation in over a year as it battles a fresh outbreak.

An 85-year-old woman and a 69-year-old man, both Bruneians, died after contracting lung infections following their admission to a quarantine centre this month, the health ministry said.

It brings the total virus deaths in the sultanate on Borneo island to five since the start of the pandemic.

The country, home to about 450,000 people, reported its last Covid-19 death in June last year.

Brunei introduced fresh curbs in August after seeing its first local infections for 15 months.

Authorities have closed cinemas and places of worship, banned dining in at restaurants and barred people from leaving their homes except for essential reasons.

Another 110 new virus cases were recorded Tuesday, taking total infections to 1,983 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Bruneis outbreak remains small compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, which are battling fierce virus waves driven by the Delta variant.

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Al Capone’s guns to go under the hammer in US auction – Macau Business

Posted: at 10:35 am

Guns once owned by Al Capone, one of the most notorious gangsters in United States history, are to go under the hammer at a California auction.

The mobsters favored .45 automatic pistol is among the haul, which also includes vintage photos, a letter to his son written from Alcatraz, and the bed he shared with his wife at their luxury Florida mansion.

The 174 items on sale in October are a collection entitled A Century of Notoriety: the Estate of Al Capone, in what auctioneers say will no doubt go down as one of the most important celebrity auctions in history.

Capone was one of the most feared figures in organized crime during the Prohibition Era, when the sale or production of alcohol was banned in the United States.

He was the boss of the Chicago Outfit, a 1920s gang that beat out rivals in bootlegging and racketeering with increasingly brutal methods.

These culminated in the 1929 St Valentines Day Massacre, when seven members of a rival gang were killed, execution style.

Capone was famously never convicted for violence, but jailed for tax evasion, ultimately ending up at Alcatraz, an island fortress off San Francisco.

Auctioneers at the October 8 sale in Sacramento estimate the .45 Colt automatic could fetch up to $150,000, while another pistol owned by the gangster might raise as much as $60,000.

The haul, which also includes a platinum and diamond Patek Philippe pocket watch, is from a collection passed down to Al and Mae Capones only son, Sonny.

It is currently owned by Diane and Barbara Capone, granddaughters of the infamous crook.

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Five killed in DR Congo as alleged rapist resists arrest – Macau Business

Posted: at 10:35 am

A DR Congo soldier accused of attempted rape shot dead the father of his victim, as well as three other people, before being killed himself by the security forces, local police said on Monday.

In an incident on Sunday in the town of Kisangani in the northeast of the country, the soldier was killed by police and the army as they tried to arrest him for attempted rape, the deputy police chief of Tshopo province, Colonel Gerard Bosange told AFP.

On Sunday, a sergeant shot two soldiers and a civilian who had been sent to arrest him after killing a father who had tried to stop him raping his daughter, Bosange said.

On the orders of the government in Kinshasa, the police and the army used a mortar to kill the soldier, who had two combat weapons and five loaded clips and refused to hand over the body of the victim.

On August 11, a soldier shot dead two officers trying to stop him from bundling his wife into a military vehicle in Beni, a restless region in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the army regularly clashes with armed groups.

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A microscopic video shows the coronavirus on the rampage. – The New York Times

Posted: at 10:34 am

The intruder stalks its prey with stealth and precision, preparing to puncture its quarrys armor. Once inside, the aggressor forces its host to produce more intruders, and then causes it to explode, spewing out a multitude of invaders who can continue their rampage on a wider scale.

The drama, depicted in a microscopic video of SARS-CoV-2 infecting bat brain cells, provides a window into how the pathogen turns cells into virus-making factories before causing the host cell to die.

The video was produced by Sophie-Marie Aicher and Delphine Planas, virologists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who won honorable mention in a microscopic video competition sponsored by Nikon, the photography company.

Filmed over 48 hours with an image recorded every 10 minutes, the footage shows an array of bat brain cells, which appear as gray blobs, interspersed with red dots, which are the cells dying after having been infected with the virus. The infected cells fuse with neighboring ones to form larger masses, and toward the end of the video, they explode, signaling their demise.

Ms. Aicher, who specializes in zoonotic diseases those that can be transmitted from animals to humans said this infectious juggernaut was the same in bats and humans, with one important distinction: Bats ultimately do not get sick.

In humans, the coronavirus is able to evade detection and cause more damage in part by preventing infected cells from alerting the immune system to the presence of the invaders. But its special power is the ability to force host cells to fuse with neighboring ones, a process known as syncytia that allows the coronavirus to remain undetected as it replicates.

Every time the virus has to exit the cell, its at risk of detection so if it can go straight from one cell to another, it can work much faster, Ms. Aicher said.

She said she hoped the video would help demystify the virus, and make it easier for people to understand and appreciate this deceitful nemesis that has upended billions of lives.

Its important to help people get past the scientific jargon to understand that this a very sophisticated and clever virus that is well adapted to make humans sick, she said.

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A microscopic video shows the coronavirus on the rampage. - The New York Times

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Vaccinated Parents Are Catching COVID As Schoolkids Bring The Virus Home : Shots – Health News – NPR

Posted: at 10:34 am

Stephanie Chenard held hands with her son, Desmond, 8, as they walked to his school in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. Later that evening, the school district reported four COVID-19 cases in four different schools. Beth LaBerge/KQED hide caption

Stephanie Chenard held hands with her son, Desmond, 8, as they walked to his school in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. Later that evening, the school district reported four COVID-19 cases in four different schools.

"We were so careful," says Alysha Johnson, a resident of Discovery Bay, east of San Francisco. "I'm a germaphobe. When this whole thing happened, we didn't leave the house for six months."

Johnson was crushed when her toddler caught COVID-19 at a summer play group recently.

"It was a pretty big deal how sick he got," says Johnson. "It wasn't just a little sniffle."

Her 2-year-old suffered a sore throat, a cough and a 104-degree fever. The bout lasted more than a week and sickened Alysha Johnson, her boyfriend and her sister all of whom had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Alysha Johnson holds her now-healthy son, River, at their home in Discovery Bay, Calif. After the toddler got quite sick after a play date, his mom, his aunt and his mom's boyfriend, who'd all been vaccinated, caught what Johnson says felt "like a really bad sinus cold." Tests confirmed they all had COVID-19. Beth LaBerge/KQED hide caption

Alysha Johnson holds her now-healthy son, River, at their home in Discovery Bay, Calif. After the toddler got quite sick after a play date, his mom, his aunt and his mom's boyfriend, who'd all been vaccinated, caught what Johnson says felt "like a really bad sinus cold." Tests confirmed they all had COVID-19.

"It felt like a really bad sinus cold," Johnson says. "I felt exhausted. I lost my sense of taste and smell. That was the most bizarre sensation."

Johnson is relieved her vaccination likely protected her against a more severe case of COVID-19. But the fact that kids are transmitting the coronavirus to family members is unnerving many parents all over the U.S. and putting extra stress on many households as children head back to school.

Johnson gives River a bottle in her home in Discovery Bay. Family members spent isolation together there this summer, after getting sick with COVID-19. Everyone has since recovered. Beth LaBerge/KQED hide caption

Johnson gives River a bottle in her home in Discovery Bay. Family members spent isolation together there this summer, after getting sick with COVID-19. Everyone has since recovered.

In the two weeks leading up to classes, 3,255 students tested positive for the coronavirus in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Last week, more than 3,000 students and staff members in Florida's Brevard Public Schools had to go into quarantine. And in Hawaii, some schools are pulling the plug on in-class learning entirely, returning to remote versions.

Nationwide between Aug. 5 and Aug 12, about 121,000 children tested positive for the virus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. That's a 23% increase over the prior week.

"Time and time again we're seeing kids return to school and then come home either after an exposure or sick themselves," says Nicole Braxley, an emergency medicine physician at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento. "The virus sheds for a couple of days before the patient has symptoms. Entire families are suddenly exposed."

Stephanie Chenard's 8-year-old son, Desmond, started third grade in the Bay Area last week. On the evening of the first day of class, she received an email. The school district reported four COVID-19 cases in four different schools.

"It's already started," Chenard texted us after receiving the email, including a tearful emoji in her message.

She knows firsthand how much a mild pediatric case can upend family life. About a month ago, Desmond started to lose his appetite. He quickly developed a fever. Chenard grimaces, remembering the moment the family learned Desmond had tested positive for the coronavirus. The news shattered the 8-year-old.

"He just burst out into tears," she says.

The family canceled a long-awaited summer trip to Lake Tahoe and instead isolated at home.

Chenard, a 49-year-old college administrator, started making calls. She notified her son's summer camp. They suspended all activity. She alerted the public swimming pool. She fretted about whether to notify the organizers of a summer music festival. The hardest call was to a friend who had just had an organ transplant.

"The exposure felt like a moral failing," says Chenard.

Fortunately, her son's case was mild. His fever broke the same day it started.

"Desmond was only sick for eight hours, but I spent 45 hours on notifications alone," Chenard says. The child's quarantine and the rest of the family's subsequent isolation also required both parents to juggle work and child care. Fortunately, neither parent caught the virus. Chenard feels grateful she and her husband are fully vaccinated.

Some families are not so lucky.

Jace Garcia caught COVID-19 playing soccer with a friend in Sacramento. The virus struck the 11-year-old in the middle of the night. Jace woke up vomiting.

He curled up in the bathroom around the toilet. Body aches racked his calves, feet, chest and head.

"Everything was just squeezing that part of the body towards the bone," Jace says.

His fever spiked to around 104 degrees. He shivered under a pile of blankets. Even playing video games did not offer relief.

"Every time I would click down, I would get a tingling sensation in my hand," Jace remembers. He tossed the controllers aside. "I felt dizzy."

The only advice doctors offered was to try to keep him hydrated.

"As a parent, you feel helpless," says Rico Garcia, Jace's dad. "It was like the longest few days of my life."

Rico Garcia worried he might contract the virus too. Each morning he anxiously took a rapid test. He hoped the vaccination he got would offer complete protection, but he caught a vaccine breakthrough case. On the fourth morning, Rico Garcia tested positive for the coronavirus. Within 24 hours, symptoms set in.

Rico Garcia and his son, Jace, enjoy a baseball game before the pandemic's start. This month, both father and son contracted COVID-19, as did Jace's mom. "As a parent, you feel helpless," Garcia says, of watching Jace struggle with the illness. Rico Garcia hide caption

Rico Garcia and his son, Jace, enjoy a baseball game before the pandemic's start. This month, both father and son contracted COVID-19, as did Jace's mom. "As a parent, you feel helpless," Garcia says, of watching Jace struggle with the illness.

"It felt like a terrible head cold," Rico Garcia says. "My brain was foggy. I couldn't think straight."

Then he lost his voice. He called in sick to the radio station where he's a DJ.

"My first sip of coffee was amazing," Rico Garcia remembers. "My ninth and tenth sip tasted like hot water. In the snap of a finger, my sense of taste and smell was gone. I went as far as to cut a lime open and bite into it and tasted nothing."

Eventually his ex-wife also caught the virus from their son. She's a teacher and now isolated. Jace is still fighting a lingering cough and congestion. He's also missing the first 10 days of sixth grade.

Epidemiologists say breakthrough cases are on the rise all around the U.S., though estimates vary widely because tallies depend on the degree of community masking, testing availability and the level of virus circulating regionally.

"Symptoms can be absent or so mild in the vaccinated, many dismiss this as a cold or seasonal allergies," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a University of California, San Francisco professor and infectious disease specialist, notes in an email. "In other words, you don't know what you don't know."

An internal presentation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from late July estimated that about 35,000 people a week were contracting a symptomatic breakthrough infection in the United States. In the week leading up to July 24, about 384,000 people across the country tested positive for the coronavirus, which indicates that about 9% of new cases were likely breakthrough infections. Chin-Hong says this is probably an underestimate of the true total but it shouldn't undermine the value of vaccines in people's minds.

"At the end of the day, one can say why focus on breakthrough infections, as the vaccines are really meant to prevent people getting serious disease and dying which they are still spectacular at," he says.

It's still rare for a child to die from COVID-19 or to experience a case severe enough to require hospitalization. In states where data are available, less than 2% of pediatric cases required hospitalization and less than 0.03% were fatal.

Yet, as schools open and more students test positive for the virus, parents and teachers find themselves trying to weigh the risks. Psychologically, the increased isolation of remote learning during the pandemic has been hard on many families and especially children a fact underscored by the spike in U.S. emergency room visits by kids for mental health issues last year.

Stephanie Chenard bid her third-grader, Desmond, goodbye as he headed into his classroom last week. Screens can't replace the value of in-person interaction for schoolkids, says Saun-Toy Trotter, a psychotherapist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, Calif. "One element of their well-being," she says, "is being with peers learning, stretching, struggling, growing and connecting." Beth LaBerge/KQED hide caption

Stephanie Chenard bid her third-grader, Desmond, goodbye as he headed into his classroom last week. Screens can't replace the value of in-person interaction for schoolkids, says Saun-Toy Trotter, a psychotherapist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, Calif. "One element of their well-being," she says, "is being with peers learning, stretching, struggling, growing and connecting."

"Young people experienced more depression and anxiety because of the level of isolation," says Saun-Toy Trotter, a psychotherapist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, Calif. She stresses that screens can't replace in-person interaction.

"One element of their well-being is being with peers learning, stretching, struggling, growing and connecting," Trotter says.

She recommends that parents ask doctors and teachers lots of questions to help families weigh their personal risks and make sure schools are taking steps to keep their children safe. Schools can mitigate transmission of the coronavirus through the widespread use of masks, vaccination of faculty and staff, and better air filtration and ventilation inside buildings. Simply opening both a window and a door to create a cross-breeze can help make a difference.

Before her son started middle school last week, Trotter fired off a few emails to school administrators. The responses helped ease her mind. She says an in-person classroom experience is the right choice for her son at least for now. She's watching the data closely.

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Why Is Covid-22 Trending On Twitter? Here Are Misconceptions About Coronavirus Variants – Forbes

Posted: at 10:34 am

The Delta variant is a Covid-19 coronavirus variant of concern that's been spreading throughout the ... [+] U.S., the U.K. and other parts of the world. But what the heck is Covid-22? Is that really a thing? (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Theres a Catch-22. Theres also the Taylor Swift song 22. But what the heck is Covid-22, and why the heck is it trending on Twitter?

As you may know, Covid-19 is short for coronavirus disease 2019, a disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Its got the 19 at the end of it not because there have 18 other Covids as Ted Nugent may have thought, which I covered previously for Forbes. Its not because the virus is now 19 years old and old enough to legally drink in Canada and gamble in Alabama and Nebraska. No, the 19 has been there because the SARS-CoV-2 was first was first detected in December 2019.

But there hasnt been a Covid-20 or a Covid-21 because all of the variants that have emerged during the ongoing pandemic have been from the same lineage or family as the original SARS-CoV-2. The Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Lambda, and other variants of concern and interest listed on the World Health Organization (WHO) website have all resulted from progressive mutations in the genetic material of the original SARS-CoV-2. In other words, all of these variants descended from the initial version that began spreading. For such variants, the answer to the question, whos your Daddy, would be the Covid-19 coronavirus.

But now the word Covid-22 is trending on Twitter as the following tweet pointed out:

In fact, by Monday afternoon, there were over 58 thousand tweets with that term:

It seems to have left quite a few people rather confused:

So is Covid-22 a new official term from the WHO or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or some other scientific organization? Is Covid-22 even real?

Well, it seems like this Covid-22 term emerged from what Sai Reddy, PhD, an Associate Professor of Systems and Synthetic Immunology at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, may have said. According to Vanessa Chalmers writing for The Sun, Reddy warned that a new variant could emerge in 2022 that could pose a big risk. The emphasis here is on the words could and could because we are not in 2022 yet, not unless Reddy has a time machine.

Reportedly, he referred to this possibility as Covid-22 by saying: Covid-22 could get worse than what we are witnessing now. Apparently, he used the term Covid-21 when referring to the Delta variant when speaking to the a German publication called Blick.

OK, first of all, the Delta variant initially detected in October of 2020 in India,not in 2021. So any 21 term wouldnt quite work, unless its some kind of new Blackjack hand.

Secondly, the Delta variant is a variation of the original SARS-CoV-2 that can cause Covid-19. It is still a Covid-19 coronavirus. So no one should be using the term Covid-21 to describe the Delta variant. That would be like preparing a baby shower gift for your best friend from college that says, congratulations on you impending baby rhinoceros. Thats assuming, of course, that your best friend from college isnt a rhinoceros and you meant something else when you said that he or she was horny. If you really want to use numbers to describe the Delta variant, you can call it the B.1.617.2 variant, which is its Pangolineage designation.

Thirdly, there is no Covid-22 right now. Look at your smartphone. Its currently 2021. Facebook hasnt tracked what youll be doing in 2022 yet. When it comes to variants, the biggest concerns right now are the Delta and Delta plus variants that are more contagious than the original version of the virus. They have been spreading throughout different parts of the world including the U.S.

Then theres the Lambda variant, which is technically a variant of interest not a variant of concern based on the current WHO classification. It has spread in different parts of South America and has already made it to over 30 countries.

The Pfizer/BioNTech (or sorry, the Comirnaty), the Moderna, and the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines still seem to offer decent protection against these circulating variants. However, there are concerns that these vaccines may be not quite as effective against the Delta or Lambda variants compared to their effectiveness against the original version or the alpha variant. More studies are needed though to better determine what their effectiveness may actually be.

Many public health experts have been pointing to 2022 as the year that the pandemic will end. This would be in line with what happened in 1918 with the flu pandemic, which stretched across three years. It began with a herald wave during the Spring of 1918. Then flu activity subsided during the Summer of 1918 before surging even more in the Fall of 1918 through the Winter of 1918-1919. Flu activity dropped again in the Summer of 1919 before picking back up again that subsequent Fall and Winter before the pandemic finally ended after this third wave in 1920. A similar time course could happen for this Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. as it takes time for enough people to build up immunity through a combination of Covid-19 vaccination and natural exposure and recovery from infections.

Could even more contagious variants emerge next year in 2022? Thats certainly a possibility. As long as the virus keeps reproducing and spreading, new and worse variants could result. Each time the virus reproduces in a persons cells, it can make mistakes, like a drunk person photocopying his or her butt. Some of these mistakes (which are basically mutations in the resulting viruses genetic codes) may make the virus weaker. Others may make little difference. And some may make the virus stronger. As long as the structures of the spike proteins on the virus dont change too much, protection from the vaccines have decent chance of keeping the pandemic from dragging on past 2022, at least in the U.S.

One of the biggest variant concerns is that a so-called escape variant may emerge. This would be a version of the virus thats so different from the original versions that it is able to escape or evade the protection offered by the vaccines and natural immunity. It would be bit like your friend getting so much plastic surgery that you no longer recognize him or her. You may say, hey, perpetually-surprised-looking-person, have you seen my friend? Similarly, the virus has to be so different that your immune system is not able to either adequately detect the virus when it enters your body or generate an effective response to the virus.

Keep in mind though that changes in the virus tend to happen gradually. Its not as if a new variant will suddenly appear one day having arms and legs instead of spikes and be able to walk up walls like Spider Man. Instead, the configuration of the spike protein may change more and more with each generation of new variants. If public health surveillance systems are able to follow how different versions of the SARS-CoV-2 are evolving, scientists may be able to anticipate when versions of the virus have changed enough to merit the production of new vaccines that better match new variants.

Continuing surveillance can help catch variants as they emerge and anticipate when new versions of ... [+] the Covid-19 vaccines may be needed. (Photo by HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

Both the mRNA technology used by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna and the adenovirus platforms used by Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson should make it relatively straightforward to swap in a different updated versions of the spike protein. Having such vaccine technology around is a big game changer. So its not as if the virus will catch much of the world with its pants down as it did in 2020.

During this pandemic, its important to remain even-keeled and not have concerns swing too far in either direction. Some keep trying to downplay the pandemic, claim that its no big deal and thus sidestep precautions. Whereas, on the other hand, some are a bit too Doomsday about the pandemic believing that it may last forever and worrying that the world will never be able to recover. Neither extreme is the right way to go.

Instead, right now, the key is to maintain proper perspective and follow science-backed strategies. You dont have to hide out in your toilet paper teepee all the time. However, maintain Covid-19 precautions such as social distancing and face mask use when you are interacting with others in public until vaccination rates reach high enough levels to achieve herd immunity thresholds and interrupt the transmission of the virus. The longer it takes to get past such thresholds and the more the virus in the meantime reproduces and spreads, the more new variants may emerge.

Also, try to stick to the terms established by the World Health Organizations (WHO). They have been careful about choosing the appropriate terms to describe various aspects of the pandemic. Theyve urged against using country or cultural names for the virus because such names may be exploited to foster racism and hate against people of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds. (Remember the term kung-flu virus?) And theyve been using a naming convention to help everyone understand how different versions of the virus have been emerging. Once you start using new and unofficial terms like Covid-20, Covid-21, or Covid-22, you can cause confusion or even panic. Or the opposite can happen. People can stop taking the pandemic seriously because you seem to be trying to incite more panic than necessary.

Rather than speculating on what may happen in the future, its better to focus on taking care of the variants that are concerns today by increasing vaccination rates and maintaining other Covid-19 precautions at the same time. Our society may have 99 problems right now, but Covid-22 ain't one.

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Caught in the Crossfire Over Covids Origins – The New York Times

Posted: at 10:34 am

In the early days of the pandemic, scientists reported a reassuring trait in the new coronavirus: It appeared to be very stable. The virus was not mutating very rapidly, making it an easier target for treatments and vaccines.

At the time, the slow mutation rate struck one young scientist as odd. That really made my ears perk up, said Alina Chan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Chan wondered whether the new virus was somehow pre-adapted to thrive in humans, before the outbreak even started.

By the time the SARS-CoV-2 virus was detected in Wuhan in late 2019, it looked like it had already picked up the mutations it needed to be very good at spreading among humans, Dr. Chan said. It was already good to go.

The hypothesis, widely disputed by other scientists, was the foundation for an explosive paper posted online in May 2020, in which Dr. Chan and her colleagues questioned the prevailing consensus that the lethal virus had naturally spilled over to humans from bats through an intermediary host animal.

The question she helped put on the table has not gone away. In late May, President Biden, dissatisfied by an equivocal report he had received on the subject, asked U.S. intelligence services to dig deeper into the origins question. The new report is due any day now.

In last years paper, Dr. Chan and her colleagues speculated that perhaps the virus had crossed over into humans and been circulating undetected for months while accumulating mutations.

Perhaps, they said, the virus was already well adapted to humans while in bats or some other animal. Or maybe it adapted to humans while being studied in a lab, and had accidentally leaked out.

Dr. Chan soon found herself in the middle of a maelstrom. An article in The Mail On Sunday, a British tabloid, ran with the headline: Coronavirus did NOT come from animals in the Wuhan market.

Many senior virologists criticized her work and dismissed it out of hand, saying she did not have the expertise to speak on the subject, that she was maligning their specialty and that her statements would alienate China, hampering any future investigations.

Some called her a conspiracy theorist. Others dismissed her ideas because she is a postdoctoral fellow, a junior scientist. One virologist, Benjamin Neuman, called her hypothesis goofy.

A Chinese news outlet accused her of filthy behavior and a lack of basic academic ethics, and readers piled on that she was a race-traitor, because of her Chinese ancestry.

There were days and weeks when I was extremely afraid, and many days I didnt sleep, Dr. Chan, 32, said in a recent interview at an outdoor cafe, not far from the Broad Institute.

Dr. Chans story is a reflection of how deeply polarizing questions about the origins of the virus have become. The vast majority of scientists think it originated in bats, and was transmitted to humans through an intermediate host animal, though none has been identified.

Some of them believe that a lab accident, specifically at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, cannot be discounted and has not been adequately investigated. And a few think that the institutes research, which involved harvesting bats and bat coronaviruses from the wild, may have played a role.

Scientists on all sides say they have been threatened with violence and have faced name-calling for their positions. The attacks were so fierce that Dr. Chan worried for her personal safety and started taking new precautions, wondering if she was being followed and varying her daily routines.

The backlash made her fear that she had put her professional future in jeopardy, and she wrote a letter to her boss, in which she apologized and offered her resignation.

I thought I had committed career suicide, not just for me but for the whole group that wrote the paper, Dr. Chan said. I thought I had done a huge disservice to everybody, getting us mired in this controversy.

Aug. 24, 2021, 7:58 a.m. ET

But Dr. Chans boss, Benjamin E. Deverman, who was a co-author on the paper, refused to accept her resignation, saying only that they had been nave not to anticipate the heated reaction.

Dr. Chans role has been so contentious that many scientists declined to discuss her at all. One of the few virologists who was willing to comment flatly dismissed the possibility of a lab leak.

I believe there is no way the virus was genetically modified or person-made, said Susan Weiss, co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens at University of Pennsylvania, who also dismissed the possibility that the virus may have accidentally escaped the lab. It is clearly zoonotic, from bats.

Others said Dr. Chan was brave to put alternative hypotheses on the table.

Alina Chan deserves the credit for challenging the conventional narrative and asking this question, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University. It is not easy for a junior scientist to openly challenge an established narrative.

(Dr. Iwasaki also credited a loose group of internet sleuths who go by the acronym DRASTIC.)

The degree to which the origin question became so inflammatory and polarized is mind-boggling, Dr. Iwasaki said. The fact is, we dont know exactly where the virus came from, period. It was important to point that out.

As she sipped unsweetened ice tea and chatted about her ideas recently, Dr. Chan seemed an unlikely provocateur. She insisted that she was still on the fence about the viruss origins, torn 50-50 between the natural route and lab accident hypotheses.

No scientific journal ever published her paper. Determined to draw the attention to what she considered a critical question that had to be answered in order to prevent a future pandemic, Dr. Chan took to Twitter, mastering the art of tutorial threads and gathering followers.

She is now in worse shape than before, Dr. Chan said: Now Im getting attacked from both sides. The scientists are still attacking me, and the lab leak proponents are attacking me, too, because I wont go all the way and say its from a lab. I keep telling them I cant, because there is no evidence.

Critics say Dr. Chan bears some responsibility for the backlash.

Early last year on Twitter, she appeared to accuse scientists and editors who are directly or indirectly covering up severe research integrity issues surrounding the key SARS-2-like viruses to stop and think, adding, If your actions obscure SARS2 origins, youre playing a hand in the death of millions of people. (She subsequently deleted the tweet.)

Lab-leak proponents who have called her an apologist for virologists have also been irked by the fact that Dr. Chan received so much credit for putting the question on the public agenda.

Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said in early 2020 that they had found a virus in their database whose genome sequence was 96.2 percent similar to that of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus.

But it was internet sleuths and scientists who discovered that the virus matched one harvested in a cave linked to a pneumonia outbreak in 2012 that killed three miners and that the Wuhan labs genomic database of bat coronaviruses was taken offline in late 2019.

Dr. Chan also landed a deal with Harper Collins, for an undisclosed amount, to co-author a book with Matt Ridley, a best-selling but controversial science writer who has been criticized for downplaying the seriousness of climate change.

She denies accusations that she is writing the book for financial gain, saying she simply wants a complete record of the facts that will last longer than a Twitter feed. She plans to donate the proceeds to a Covid-related charity.

I dont need money and frills, she said.

Dr. Chan was born in Vancouver, but her parents returned to their native Singapore when she was an infant. She was a teen when the SARS epidemic hit there.

People were dying of SARS, and it was nonstop on TV, she recalled. I was 15, and it really stuck with me. There were pictures of body bags in hospital hallways.

When Covid started, many people in Boston thought it was no big deal, that flu is worse, she said. I remember thinking, This is serious business.

She returned to Canada after high school, studying biochemistry and molecular biology at University of British Columbia, and completing a Ph.D. in medical genetics. By age 25, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and then she took a position working for Dr. Deverman, who is the director of the vector engineering research group at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard.

Dr. Chan is insightful, incredibly determined and apparently fearless, Dr. Deverman said, and she has an uncanny ability to synthesize large amounts of complex information, distill all of the details down to the most critical points and then communicate them in easy to understand language.

A self-described workaholic, Dr. Chan married a fellow scientist during a break at an academic research conference a few years ago.

We took the morning off and went to city hall and came back to the conference, and my boss asked, Where were you? she said. I was like, I got married. I dont even have a ring. My mother is horrified.

She remains equivocal about the origins of the virus. Im leaning toward the lab leak theory now, but there are also days when I seriously consider that it could be from nature, she said.

On those days, I feel mostly really, really sorry for the scientists who are implicated as possible sources for the virus, she said.

Referring to Shi Zhengli, the top Chinese virologist who leads the research on emerging infectious diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Dr. Chan said, I feel really sad for her situation. The stakes could not be higher.

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Caught in the Crossfire Over Covids Origins - The New York Times

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How The US is Getting a Crash Course in Scientific Uncertainty Due to the Pandemic – The New York Times

Posted: at 10:34 am

When the coronavirus surfaced last year, no one was prepared for it to invade every aspect of daily life for so long, so insidiously. The pandemic has forced Americans to wrestle with life-or-death choices every day of the past 18 months and theres no end in sight.

Scientific understanding of the virus changes by the hour, it seems. The virus spreads only by close contact or on contaminated surfaces, then turns out to be airborne. The virus mutates slowly, but then emerges in a series of dangerous new forms. Americans dont need to wear masks. Wait, they do.

At no point in this ordeal has the ground beneath our feet seemed so uncertain. In just the past week, federal health officials said they would begin offering booster shots to all Americans in the coming months. Days earlier, those officials had assured the public that the vaccines were holding strong against the Delta variant of the virus, and that boosters would not be necessary.

As early as Monday, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to formally approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been given to scores of millions of Americans. Some holdouts found it suspicious that the vaccine was not formally approved yet somehow widely dispensed. For them, emergency authorization has never seemed quite enough.

Americans are living with science as it unfolds in real time. The process has always been fluid, unpredictable. But rarely has it moved at this speed, leaving citizens to confront research findings as soon as they land at the front door, a stream of deliveries that no one ordered and no one wants.

Is a visit to my ailing parent too dangerous? Do the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the possibility of physical harm to my child? Will our family gathering turn into a superspreader event?

Living with a capricious enemy has been unsettling even for researchers, public health officials and journalists who are used to the mutable nature of science. They, too, have frequently agonized over the best way to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

But to frustrated Americans unfamiliar with the circuitous and often contentious path to scientific discovery, public health officials have seemed at times to be moving the goal posts and flip-flopping, or misleading, even lying to, the country.

Most of the time, scientists are edging forward in a very incremental way, said Richard Sever, assistant director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and a co-founder of two popular websites, bioRxiv and medRxiv, where scientists post new research.

There are blind alleys that people go down, and a lot of the time you kind of dont know what you dont know.

Biology and medicine are particularly demanding fields. Ideas are evaluated for years, sometimes decades, before they are accepted.

Researchers first frame the hypothesis, then design experiments to test it. Data from hundreds of studies, often by competing teams, are analyzed before the community of experts comes to a conclusion.

In the interim, scientists present the findings to their peers, often at niche conferences that are off-limits to journalists and the general public, and hone their ideas based on the feedback they receive. Its not unusual to see attendees at these meetings point out sometimes harshly every flaw in a studys methods or conclusions, sending the author back to the lab for more experiments.

Fifteen years elapsed from the description of the first cases of H.I.V. to the identification of two proteins the virus needs to infect cells, a finding crucial to research for a cure. Even after a study has reached a satisfying conclusion, it must be submitted for rigorous review at a scientific journal, which can add another year or more before the results become public.

Measured on that scale, scientists have familiarized themselves with the coronavirus at lightning speed, partly by accelerating changes to this process that were already underway.

Treatment results, epidemiological models, virological discoveries research into all aspects of the pandemic turns up online almost as quickly as authors can finish their manuscripts. Preprint studies are dissected online, particularly on Twitter, or in emails between experts.

What researchers have not done is explain, in ways that the average person can understand, that this is how science has always worked.

The public disagreements and debates played out in public, instead of at obscure conferences, give the false impression that science is arbitrary or that scientists are making things up as they go along.

What a non-scientist or the layperson doesnt realize is that there is a huge bolus of information and consensus that the two people who are arguing will agree upon, Dr. Sever said.

Is it really so surprising, then, that Americans feel bewildered and bamboozled, even enraged, by rapidly changing rules that have profound implications for their lives?

Federal agencies have an unenviable task: Creating guidelines needed to live with an unfamiliar and rapidly spreading virus. But health officials have not acknowledged clearly or often enough that their recommendations may and very probably would change as the virus, and their knowledge of it, evolved.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, its been a piss-poor job, to say it in the nicest way, said Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.

Leaders in the United States and Britain have promised too much too soon, and have had to backtrack. Health officials have failed to frame changing advice as necessary when scientists learn more about the virus.

Aug. 24, 2021, 7:58 a.m. ET

And the officials have not really defined the pandemics end for example, that the virus will finally loosen its stranglehold once the infections drop below a certain mark. Without a clearly delineated goal, it can seem as if officials are asking people to give up their freedoms indefinitely.

One jarring backtrack was the mask guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said in May that vaccinated people could drop their masks, advice that helped set the stage for a national reopening. Officials did not emphasize, or at least not enough, that the masks could be needed again. Now, with a new surge in infections, they are.

It can be really difficult for public perception and public understanding when these big organizations seem to reverse course in a way that is really not clear, said Ellie Murray, a science communicator and public health expert at Boston University.

It does not help that the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization, the two leading public health agencies, have disagreed as frequently as they have in the past 18 months on the definition of a pandemic, on the frequency of asymptomatic infections, on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines for pregnant women.

Most Americans have a decent grasp of basic health concepts exercise is good, junk food is bad. But many are never taught how science progresses.

In 2018, 15-year-olds in the United States ranked 18th in their ability to explain scientific concepts, lagging behind their peers in not just China, Singapore and the United Kingdom, but also Poland and Slovenia.

In a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, many Americans correctly identified fossil fuels and the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, but they were less knowledgeable about the scientific process.

UnderstandVaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

And basic tenets of public health often are even more of a mystery: How does my behavior affect others health? Why should I be vaccinated if I consider myself low-risk?

People werent primed before to understand a lot of these concepts, Dr. Madad said. We should have known that we couldnt expect the public to change their behaviors on a dime.

Both information and disinformation about Covid-19 surface online, especially on social media, much more now than in previous public health crises. This represents a powerful opportunity to fill in the knowledge gaps for many Americans.

But health officials have not taken full advantage. The C.D.C.s Twitter feed is a robotic stream of announcements. Agency experts need not just to deliver messages, but also to answer questions about how the evolving facts apply to American lives.

And health officials need to be more nimble, so that bad actors dont define the narrative while real advice is delayed by a traditionally cumbersome bureaucracy.

Theyre not moving at the speed that this pandemic is moving, Dr. Murray said. That obviously creates a perception in the public that you cant just rely on those more official sources of news.

In the middle of a pandemic, health officials have some responsibility to counter the many spurious voices on Twitter and Facebook spreading everything from pseudoscience to lies. Risk communication during a public health crisis is a particular skill, and right now Americans need the balm.

There are some people whose confidence outweighs their knowledge, and theyre happy to say things which are wrong, said Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease expert at Boston University.

And then there are other people who probably have all the knowledge but keep quiet because theyre scared of saying things, which is a shame as well, or just arent good communicators.

Health officials could begin even now with two-minute videos to explain basic concepts; information hotlines and public forums at the local, state and federal levels; and a responsive social media presence to counter disinformation.

The road ahead will be difficult. The virus has more surprises in store, and the myths that have already become entrenched will be hard to erase.

But its not too much to hope that the lessons learned in this pandemic will help experts explain future disease outbreaks, as well as other urgent problems, like climate change, in which individual actions contribute to the whole.

The first step toward educating the public and winning their trust is to make plans, and then communicate them honestly flaws, uncertainty and all.

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How The US is Getting a Crash Course in Scientific Uncertainty Due to the Pandemic - The New York Times

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Young adults most infected with coronavirus in L.A. County – Los Angeles Times

Posted: at 10:34 am

As the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread, breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated people are ticking up in Los Angeles County, but inoculated people remain generally well-protected against hospitalizations and death.

Cumulatively, among 5.1 million L.A. County residents who are fully vaccinated, 0.53% have tested positive, 0.014% have been hospitalized and 0.0013% or 68 people have died.

Most of these deaths have happened, unfortunately, among people who were seriously ill with comorbidities and/or had immune compromised systems, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a recent briefing.

The latest data reflect the reality that the vaccines do not provide 100% protection, and that with these high rates of community transmission, more fully vaccinated people are getting post-vaccination infections, Ferrer said. However, this very same information also makes it clear how much protection vaccinated people still have. Most of us that are fully vaccinated ... dont get infected.

By far, the age group now most likely to get infected with the coronavirus in Los Angeles County is younger adults those 18 to 49. As of early August, for every 100,000 vaccinated younger adults, nearly 150 were getting infected weekly.

The coronavirus case rate was much worse among unvaccinated people. For every 100,000 unvaccinated younger adults, nearly 450 were getting infected weekly.

That means unvaccinated younger adults are three times as likely to get infected with the coronavirus as their fully vaccinated counterparts.

Those being hospitalized, however, are far more likely to be older, unvaccinated adults. The hospitalization rate among unvaccinated adults 50 and older has risen to a new summertime high: For every 100,000 unvaccinated older adults, nearly 60 were in the hospital with a COVID-19 infection.

But for every 100,000 fully vaccinated older adults, only five were in the hospital with a COVID-19 infection.

That means unvaccinated older adults are 12 times more likely to be hospitalized than their vaccinated counterparts. Unvaccinated younger adults are 25 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are fully vaccinated in that age group.

If youre unvaccinated, youve got a lot of risk a lot of risk of being in the hospital and a lot of risk [of] dying, Ferrer said. And that includes younger people who are unvaccinated as well as older people, who always have more risk with this virus for having a bad outcome.

Those most at risk of dying from COVID-19 in L.A. County are unvaccinated residents 50 and older. Among every 100,000 residents in that age group, there were 5.9 deaths a week in early August, a death rate nearly 17 times higher than that of vaccinated residents among the same ages.

Younger unvaccinated adults, those between the ages of 18 and 49, are still fairly unlikely to die from COVID-19. But that cohorts death rate 0.9 death for every 100,000 younger adults is still more than 22 times higher than their vaccinated counterparts.

(Los Angeles County Department of Public Health)

Overall, people who are not fully vaccinated but require hospitalization tend to be younger the median age is 50, and many of those are between the ages of 35 and 63. This group is more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit or require sedation and the insertion of a breathing tube in their windpipe than vaccinated people.

By contrast, among those who are fully vaccinated and need hospitalization, patients tend to be older; their median age is 65, with many between the ages of 54 and 78.

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Young adults most infected with coronavirus in L.A. County - Los Angeles Times

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