The latest on the global pandemic
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- Associated Press
From U.S. President Donald Trump to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, global decision-makers have frequently set bad examples, whether it’s refusing to wear masks or breaking lockdowns aimed at protecting their people from COVID-19. In April, New Zealand Health Minister David Clark defied strict lockdown measures by driving about 19 kilometers (12 miles) to the beach to take a walk with his family while the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it pained him not to embrace supporters, but he made a remarkable exception on a weekend trip in March, shaking hands with the elderly mother of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.
- Associated Press
From Argentina to Panama, a number of officials have been forced to resign as reports of fraudulent purchases of ventilators, masks and other medical supplies pile up. “Whenever there’s a dire situation, spending rules are relaxed and there’s always someone around looking to take advantage to make a profit,” said José Ugaz, a former Peruvian prosecutor who jailed former President Alberto Fujimori and was chairman of Transparency International from 2014-17. Coronavirus clusters are still spreading in Latin America, fueling a spike in deaths, swamping already-precarious hospitals and threatening to ravage slumping economies.
- South China Morning Post
The Chinese virologist at the centre of conspiracy theories over the coronavirus origin has publicly defended her work, saying it contributed to fast identification of the new pathogen and would help protect against future outbreaks.Shi Zhengli – dubbed China’s “bat woman” for her research on coronaviruses in the mammals – told state broadcaster CGTN on Monday those studies had “enabled us to understand the cause of the unknown pneumonia in the shortest time” after the first cases emerged in Wuhan late last year.Days after samples were obtained on December 30, the team sequenced them and isolated the pathogen, believing it to be a new type of coronavirus, said Shi, director of the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Wuhan Institute of Virology.They proved the strain they had isolated was causing the mystery illness by conducting experiments on transgenic mice and rhesus monkeys in early February, simulating the pneumonia symptoms experienced by humans with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.Shi said 15 years of research and molecular biology experiments looking at whether coronaviruses carried by bats had the potential to jump species had given them the experience and technical solutions needed when the outbreak began.“For example, our nucleic acid and antibody detection methods, and the virus isolation technologies – all of these took a lot of time to fully explore [but gave us the ability to] identify the pathogen once we had a sample,” she said. Coronavirus: bat scientist’s cave exploits offer hope to beat virus ‘sneakier than Sars’Shi has spent years researching bat coronaviruses at her lab at the institute. After searching caves around the country for samples, Shi and her team identified the natural bat reservoir for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) pathogen that spread in southern China from 2002 to 2003.The origin of the new coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2, remains unknown – scientists believe it most likely spread to humans from animals, perhaps a bat. But given the Wuhan location of her high-security laboratory, which handles the most deadly pathogens, Shi found herself at the centre of conspiracy theories that the new virus had been engineered, or that it had escaped from the lab.As the virus spread around the world, the theories swirled online before US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both claimed there was evidence the pathogen had come from the Wuhan institute, without providing any evidence. The institute has repeatedly denied such claims, and Beijing has said finding the origin of the virus was a scientific issue and accused the US of politicising the pandemic.Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, appeared on CGTN on Sunday, saying the lab held just three live coronavirus strains from bats, and their highest similarity to Sars-CoV-2 was only 79.8 per cent.Some of the speculation around the institute is based on an article by Shi’s team about a new bat coronavirus that was published in Nature in 2018. But Wang said that virus was only 50 per cent similar to Sars-CoV-2.A paper published in Nature in February said another novel bat coronavirus, named RaTG-13, shared about 96.2 per cent genomic similarity with Sars-CoV-2. Wang told the broadcaster that a 3.8 per cent difference was significant, and it would take a long time for a virus to evolve and mutate to that extent. She added that Shi’s team had not isolated RaTG-13 because they were focused on finding the origin of Sars, so they had only looked at bat coronaviruses that were similar to Sars.Responding to the accusations against her lab and work, Shi said it was “regrettable” to mix science with politics, and called for joint international efforts on infectious disease research to achieve “mutual benefits”.“The work in the lab, collecting samples in the field and setting up early warning models needs scientists from different fields with different experience,” she said. “One small team can’t do this sort of work alone.” Chinese virologist at centre of ‘coronavirus came from a laboratory’ claim denies defectingShi said she would continue to study unknown pathogens to help in the battle against future outbreaks because the ones that had been discovered were “just the tip of the iceberg”.“If we want to protect humans from viruses or avoid a second outbreak of new infectious diseases we must go in advance to learn of these unknown viruses carried by wild animals in nature and then provide early warnings,” Shi said.“These viruses exist in nature whether you want to admit it or not,” she said. “If we don’t study them, there will possibly be another outbreak and we wouldn’t know about them.”Sign up now and get a 10% discount (original price US$400) off the China AI Report 2020 by SCMP Research. Learn about the AI ambitions of Alibaba, Baidu & JD.com through our in-depth case studies, and explore new applications of AI across industries. The report also includes exclusive access to webinars to interact with C-level executives from leading China AI companies (via live Q&A; sessions). Offer valid until 31 May 2020.More from South China Morning Post: * Coronavirus: Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli publishes new paper on pathogen’s evolution * Coronavirus conspiracy leak claims ‘pure fabrication’, Wuhan lab chief says * Pangolin trade highlights loopholes in rules to prevent spread of animal virusesThis article China’s ‘bat woman’ at centre of coronavirus theories says her work helped identify new strain fast first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Hundreds of repatriated Filipino workers made their way to bus and airport terminals on Tuesday to return to families, the first among around 24,000 nationals stuck for weeks in the capital's quarantine facilities, hotels and aboard cruise ships. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has told his government to do everything possible to process within a week the thousands of returnees, some of whom tested negative for the coronavirus and completed the mandatory 14-day quarantine long ago. Among those hit by the crisis was English teacher Anna Marie Del Carmen, who has been stuck in the capital for two months since her repatriation from Thailand.
Police in the Philippine capital did a dry run on Tuesday of measures to enforce social distancing on public transport and control the spread of coronavirus, a tricky task in a densely populated city known for its commuting chaos. More than 500 police trainees in Manila posed as rail passengers in an exercise to manage hundreds of thousands of people once public transportation eventually resumes, having being closed for nearly 11 weeks.
- The New York Times
The Trump administration's new testing strategy, released Sunday to Congress, holds individual states responsible for planning and carrying out all coronavirus testing, while planning to provide some supplies needed for the tests.The proposal also says existing testing capacity, if properly targeted, is sufficient to contain the outbreak. But epidemiologists say that amount of testing is orders of magnitude lower than many of them believe the country needs.The report cements a stance that has frustrated governors in both parties, following the administration's announcement last month that the federal government should be considered "the supplier of last resort" and that states should develop their own testing plans."For months, it was a tennis game. It was going back and forth between the feds and the states, and it's now landed with the states," said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.Becker noted that the federal government plans to distribute some testing supplies, including swabs and viral transport media, and to store test kits in the strategic national stockpile."That's actually quite significant," he said. "That's a positive step."The Department of Health and Human Services prepared the strategy, which meets requirements under the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on April 24, that federal agencies come up with a strategic testing plan within 30 days. It was reported earlier by The Washington Post.Becker, public health experts and Democratic leaders panned the proposal, saying the strategy runs the risk of states competing with one another and may create deep inequities among them.The strategy mirrors a divide that has played out in Congress for months. As they negotiated the virus relief bill in March, Democratic lawmakers pushed to require the administration to submit this national testing plan to Congress. Republicans resisted, saying those decisions belonged to each state.Becker and others said it's reasonable to expect states to implement some aspects of the testing, such as designating test sites. But acquiring tests involves reliance on national and international supply chains -- which are challenging for many states to navigate."That's our biggest question, that's our biggest concern, is the robustness of the supply chain, which is critical," Becker said. "You can't leave it up to the states to do it for themselves. This is not the Hunger Games."In a joint statement Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader; Rep. Frank Pallone, Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate's health committee, said the Trump administration was not taking responsibility for ramping up national testing capacity."This disappointing report confirms that President Trump's national testing strategy is to deny the truth that there aren't enough tests and supplies, reject responsibility and dump the burden onto the states," the lawmakers said. "In this document, the Trump administration again attempts to paint a rosy picture about testing while experts continue to warn the country is far short of what we need."Experts also took issue with the report's assertion that continuing to test only about 300,000 people a day, by targeting only those likely to be positive, would be enough to contain the outbreak."On the face of it, the idea that 300,000 tests a day is enough for America is absurd," said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.He offered a quick rundown of the numbers to illustrate the estimate's inadequacy. Most hospitals nationwide now test everyone who is admitted for any reason, roughly 100,000 tests each day, fearing that they may be asymptomatic and yet still spreading the virus. Testing the 1.6 million residents of nursing homes -- known to be at high risk of coronavirus infection -- and workers every two weeks would require 150,000 more tests each day. Add high-risk places like meatpacking plants that need regular testing, and the numbers rapidly build."Without having tested a single person for symptoms of COVID, we would quickly exhaust our entire national supply of testing if all we have is 300,000 tests per day," he said.The HHS report noted that an analysis by the Safra Center at Harvard estimated the need at more than 3 million tests per day. But the federal report said that estimate was based on faulty assumptions.The Safra authors who crafted the estimate said that the federal report had cherry-picked one simple example from their analysis without considering other evidence."We ran multiple models, all of which pointed to the same order of magnitude," said Danielle Allen, director of the Safra Center. "They've selected one non-primary model in an appendix and selectively adjusted assumptions to generate a different number."Allen said millions of daily tests would be required to have 4% of people test positive with the coronavirus -- the level they say is needed to halt the spread of the virus. The administration's target, 10%, would allow only for mitigation."There is not a single country that I'm aware of that achieved disease suppression with a positivity rate of 10%," she said.And 300,000 daily tests would be insufficient even for mitigation, Jha said, estimating that would require at least 900,000 tests per day.The proposal also leaves it to states to plan for contact tracing and isolation, rapidly identify new clusters of coronavirus infection and adopt new technologies. It says the federal government is "supporting and encouraging" states to rely heavily on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.However, the CDC has been slow to release guidance for states during this outbreak, Jha said. And the agency fumbled its role in testing strategy, most recently with last week's dust-up over the mixing of test results for active infection with serology."This is not CDC's shining moment," he said.Governors have bristled at claims from the administration that the supply of tests was adequate, routinely asking for more federal assistance. Some states have ultimately decided to negotiate directly with suppliers to obtain test kits.Federal virus relief legislation required states to release their individual testing plans last week, but they requested an extension to later this week. If elements of those state plans prove promising, Becker said, the federal strategy could be revised or merged with them.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company