WHO team examines Wuhan wet market

 

The WHO investigation team has visited the Wuhan wet market at the heart of the first coronavirus outbreak.

The market is the site of one of the first reported clusters of infections that emerged over a year ago.

Members of the group of experts arrived at Huanan seafood market - which has been sealed since January last year - driving into its barricaded premises as guards quickly blocked others from entering, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

The mission, which has been delayed and heavily monitored by China, is under pressure to explore how the virus jumped from animals to humans.

But with the fieldwork element of the probe in its early stages, WHO officials are downplaying expectations of finding the source of the virus, which has killed more than two million people and devastated the global economy.

On Sunday, local time, the WHO team visited the Huanan market and another wholesale market.

Team member Peter Daszak tweeted that the tours were "very important site visits", adding that the team met with key staff at both markets and "asked questions to help better understand the factors involved in the emergence of COVID."

He said the visits were "critical for our joint teams to understand the epidemiology of COVID as it started to spread at the end of 2019."

Security staff told the reporters who had gathered outside the market to leave and when a photographer used a ladder to get a better view it was shaken.

The team deflected questions from reporters but in response to a shouted question of whether the experts were satisfied with the access they had been granted, a member of the mission gave a thumbs-up.

 

 

It comes as Western studies continue to trace the virus to Wuhan as "ground zero."

Researchers at the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia also claimed that the virus "definitely" began in China, the Mail on Sunday reported.

The scientists analysed thousands of samples of COVID-19 patients to establish that Sars-Cov-2 evolved from a "progenitor" genome that dates from mid-October to November 2019.

Sergei Pond, one of the researchers involved in the study, said: "All the genetic evidence makes it clear this virus is from China.

"The pattern of worldwide spread is also consistent with Chinese viruses seeding epidemics in other countries."

It has been reported by The Sun that crucial online data related to the lab in Wuhan was deleted.

More than 300 studies published by the National Natural Science Foundation of China - including investigations into diseases that transfer from animals to humans - are no longer available.

The state-run organisation deleted scores of online content, including studies carried out by Wuhan based virologist Shi Zhengli, 56, who conducted extensive research by gathering samples in bat caves.

The mass removal of the online studies has reaffirmed fears that China is trying to hamper the investigation into the origin of coronavirus.

 

 

 

EU LEADERS BACK OFF IN VACCINE WAR

European leaders have sensationally backed down in the COVID vaccine war, after being met with fury over the "grave" bid to block jabs on the Irish border.

But they are still pushing for an extraordinary export ban that could block 3.5 million lifesaving jabs ordered from a Pfizer BioNTech in Belgium from entering the UK.

According to The Sun, politicians have slammed Brussels for handing itself new sweeping powers to stop companies sending millions of vaccines across the channel.

Ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has branded the act "almost Trumpian".

"The EU cocked up big time last night, but we all need to work in the interest of preserving Northern Ireland.

"It is not just a backdoor for goods going to Britain, it is a very sensitive place and we have a duty between the EU and UK to ensure there is no hard border," said Mr Smith.

 

 

His comments came after widespread anger erupted in Northern Ireland and among Tory MPs - with ex-Brexit Minister David Jones comparing the EU to the "Mafia".

Boris Johnson also condemned the act, which meant the bloc overrode part of the Brexit deal to effectively create a hard border in Ireland.

A British government spokesman said: "The Prime Minister spoke to EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen this evening".

"He expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have."

First Minister Arlene Foster branded it an "incredible act of hostility" and accused Brussels of playing politics with people's lives.

"The European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner - over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives," she said.

"At the first opportunity the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the coronavirus vaccine."

She said the EU had used Article 16 of the Brexit deal in an "aggressive and most shameful way" and "it is now time for our Government to step up".

The Republic of Ireland's Premier Micheal Martin has spoken to the European Commission's president Ursula von der Leyen to "express concerns" about the plan.

 

In a statement, the European Commission said: "To tackle the current lack of transparency of vaccine exports outside the EU, the Commission is putting in place a measure requiring that such exports are subject to an authorisation by Member States.

"In the process of finalisation of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected. The Commission is not triggering the safeguard clause.

"Should transits of vaccines and active substances toward third countries be abused to circumvent the effects of the authorisation system, the EU will consider using all the instruments at its disposal.

"In the process of finalising the document, the commission will also be finetuning the decision-making process under the implementing regulation."

Brussels fired the first shot in the vaccine war this week after sensationally claiming Britain is "hijacking" doses.

The bloc then tried to slam the back door shut on medicines entering Northern Ireland using powers under Article 16 of the Brexit deal, which was signed just 29 days ago.

The article allows the EU to override the treaty and was devised as a last resort to alleviate serious disruption to trade in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

As tensions boiled over, chief eurocrat Ursula von der Leyen accused AstraZeneca of misrepresenting its contract with the bloc and ordered the firm to find up to an extra 50 million doses for the continent from Britain.

Under the EU vaccine plan customs authorities in bloc countries will have to notify the Commission every time jabs are being sent to the UK - allowing them to keep an eye on our supplies.

The new rule, which lasts until March, means vaccine makers will have disclose all shipments they've made abroad in the last three months to try to catch out those heading to the UK.

As of Sunday night, local time, Britain has vaccinated more than 8.8 million people while France and Germany have only inoculated a fraction of that.

French President Emmanuel Macron has decided not to lock down France for a third time as the country continues to log upward of 24,000 new infections daily.

 

 

COUNTRIES TIGHTEN BORDERS AS VARIANTS SPREAD

 

A ban took effect on Saturday on noncitizens travelling to the United States from South Africa, amid warnings over the threat posed by a virus variant spreading rapidly there and signs that it could weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.

 

Other countries hoping to slow the spread of the more contagious variants include Canada, which has announced some flights from Mexico and Caribbean nations will be suspended. International travellers must take coronavirus tests when they return to Canada and will have to wait up to three days for results in an approved quarantine hotel at their own expense.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "Now is just not the time to be flying."

Canada marked a grim milestone on Sunday, local time, as the country's coronavirus death toll pushed past 20,000.

Restrictions in France and Germany began this weekend, with France banning most travel from all countries outside of the European Union.

Travellers from EU countries will be required to present a negative test before entering France, said Jean Castex, the French prime minister.

In Germany, nonresidents from Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini (the former Swaziland), Britain and Ireland - will be restricted from entering the country, even if they test negative for the virus.

 

 

BRAZIL 'LET COVID SPREAD'

The Brazilian Government has been accused of deliberately allowing coronavirus to spread as the country's death toll hit over 222,000.

Authorities were "intentionally" trying to infect the public with the virus, a study by a top university has claimed.

According to The Sun US, the Centre for Research in Public Health Law at the University of Sao Paulo and Conectas Direitos Humanos - one of the most respected justice organisations of Latin America - have been collecting and analysing the data since March 2020.

The document obtained by Spanish newspaper El Pais states: "Our research has revealed the existence of an institutional strategy, promoted by the Federal Government, spearheaded by the Presidency of the Republic, that intentionally seeks to ensure the spread of the virus."

It comes 10 months after right wing President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the deadly bug as "just a flu."

Researchers found there was "the commitment and efficiency of the Federal Government's work in favour of the extensive spread of the virus in Brazilian territory."

They argue that spreading the virus deliberately came with an agenda "of resuming economic activity as quickly as possible and at any cost".

It comes as a Brazilian supreme court judge authorised the opening of an investigation into the possible responsibility of Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello for the collapse of the health system in the Amazonian city of Manaus during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil.

Brazil now has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world after the US.

 

VACCINE CANDIDATE COULD BEAT UK VARIANT

US biotech company Novavax has announced that a UK study suggested it was almost 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 and was effective against the new Kent variant.

The company said that it was ready to submit its data to the regulator in what promises to add another significant boost to the vaccination program.

"NVX-CoV2373 has the potential to play an important role in solving this global public health crisis," said the company's president and CEO Stanley Erck.

Britain has ordered 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, with the first deliveries expected before the end of March.

The vaccine is the first to show clear effectiveness against the Kent variant, with about half the cases in the final-stage trial of 15,000 people caused by the new strain.

It comes as Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine has an overall efficacy of 66 per cent, the company announced on Friday (local time), following results from a phase 3 trial of almost 44,000 people across many countries.

The figure however was as high as 72 per cent in the United States but went down to 57 per cent in South Africa, where a more transmissible variant is dominant.

The company added that the vaccine was 85 per cent effective in preventing severe COVID-19 across all geographical regions.

 

"We're proud to have reached this critical milestone and our commitment to address this global health crisis continues with urgency for everyone, everywhere," the company's CEO Alex Gorsky said.

The company will seek FDA emergency use authorisation in the coming week, making it the third vaccine available in the world's hardest-hit country.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were the first to be authorised in the US, and both have efficacies of around 95 per cent.

But the comparisons are not considered like-for-like, because those trials reported results before newer, more transmissible mutations of the virus became dominant in some parts of the world.

These variants, such as B. 1.135 in South Africa and P. 1 in Brazil, elude some of the blocking action of antibodies triggered from vaccines made against the common strain of the coronavirus.

The fact that the J & J vaccine requires only one shot, and can be stored for up to three months at 2-8 degrees Celsius, give it major logistic advantages over the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. These two are based on mRNA technology and require deep freezing.

 

 

FRIDGE TURNED OFF, VACCINES RUINED

 

More than 1,000 doses of precious COVID-19 vaccine had to be destroyed in Florida after a worker accidentally turned off a refrigerator.

According to the New York Post, Palm Beach County health officials said the grievous blunder was unintentional and caused by "human error," according to a statement released to WPBF 25 News.

The catastrophe was discovered 22 January, when staff members found that the power supply had accidentally been turned off to a refrigerator inside a mobile outreach vehicle.

The fridge held 232 vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the vials contained a total of 1,160 doses.

 

 

'WHO CARES?': NY GOVERNOR ON NURSING HOME DEATHS

 

"Who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died."

That's how Gov. Cuomo callously responded to the damning state lawyer general's report that revealed his administration downplayed the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19.

According to the New York Post, during his first remarks on the spiralling controversy, Mr Cuomo said, "If you look at New York State, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states."

"A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes," he said.

"New York State, we're only about 28 per cent - only - but we're below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes."

"But who cares - 33 [per cent], 29 [per cent] - died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died."

Gov. Cuomo has announced that limited indoor dining will return to Big Apple bars and restaurants beginning Valentine's Day as the rate of new coronavirus infections in the five boroughs continues to tick down.

Local eateries have been pushing hard for the restoration of at least some indoor service as the coronavirus pandemic continues to crush their finances - and a string of cold snaps and winter storms has put a crimp on outdoor dining and further bitten into their bottom lines.

Coronavirus vaccination appointments scheduled for Monday have been postponed due to the impending snowstorm, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday (local time).

At least 14 to 16 inches of snow is set to blanket New York starting Sunday evening and continuing into Tuesday, the mayor forecast during a City Hall press briefing.

 

COACHELLA CANCELLED AS CALIFORNIA SEES 40K DEATHS

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival which were scheduled for April have been cancelled under a new health order issued in California, as the state continues to struggle with infection rates.

According to the ordinance, issued by the Riverside County Public Health Office, the festivals attract hundreds of thousands of attendees from around the world, which would create a hotbed for the spread of the virus.

"The scope and number of attendees and the nature of the venue would make it infeasible, if not impossible, to track those who may be placed at risk," an official said.

It comes as the US is on track to see its worst economic contraction since the end of World War II in the wake of the economic toll of the pandemic which has seen public events cancelled statewide.

California is America's largest state economy, which produced more than $US3 trillion of economic output in 2019, more than India's GDP.

But some economists are optimistic, with the US averaging a million vaccinations per day.

James Knightley, an economist at ING, told The Times: "There was undoubtedly a loss of momentum as COVID restrictions tightened, but early signs suggest 2021 is starting well with the latest dollars 600 fiscal stimulus payment boosting spending, California starting to reopen and the vaccination program gaining momentum. Five per cent-plus growth looks achievable this year."

The US has now seen 26,012,880 coronavirus cases and at least 438,239 people have died according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

One of the largest

 

vaccination sites in the country temporarily shut down on Saturday because dozen of protesters blocked the entrance, stalling hundreds of motorists who had been waiting in line for hours, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Los Angeles Fire Department shut the entrance to the vaccination center at Dodger Stadium about 2 p.m. as a precaution, officials told the newspaper.

The protesters had members of anti-vaccine and far-right groups, the Times reported. Some of them carried signs decrying the COVID-19 vaccine and shouting for people not to get the shots.

"This is completely wrong," said German Jaquez, who had been waiting for an hour for his vaccination when the stadium's gates were closed. He said some of the protesters were telling people in line that the coronavirus is not real and that the vaccination is dangerous.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as WHO team examines Wuhan wet market



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