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Governments need more than just public health officials for COVID-19 lockdown advice

Our society has never explicitly debated whether the health-care industry is more important than other critical sectors, like education, as governments impose lockdowns.

A health-care worker and volunteers watch as Ontario Premier Doug Ford visits a vaccine clinic for Purolator employees and their families at the company's plant in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

With many jurisdictions in another phase of pandemic-driven restrictions due to the Omicron COVID-19 wave, public opinion on COVID-19 containment measures tends to be divided and based on political ideology. This is a mistake.

School and business closures over the past two years demonstrate a failure of governance. As someone who studied the lessons of the 2008 global financial crisis, it is disheartening to see the same mistakes being made again.

Back then, governments abdicated their responsibility by prioritizing the opinions of financial industry professionals with technical mastery of complex algorithmic financial modelling tools. Now, they’re outsourcing their responsibilities to public health professionals with mastery of complex algorithmic epidemiological modelling tools.


Read more: How regulatory agencies, not the courts, are imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates


In interviewing local public health decision-makers, I learned that they had pushed for lockdowns during the previous SARS crisis and the bird flu, but government pushed back. In a pandemic, public health officers draw on functional training that allows them to employ sophisticated algorithmic modelling tools to assess epidemiological risk. However, they lack the tools to understand broader risks and harms.

To be clear, one important difference is that while financial industry professionals were motivated by greed, public health professionals are not. But the evidence shows their take on problem-solving is no different than any other manager. Past studies of risk management have shown that assessments are often limited to the variables managers are most comfortable with, overestimating the good their interventions do while underestimating the harm.

Governments need to work not just with experts in epidemiology, but psychology, business, education and community-building — anyone with a window into how we can assess the costs of lockdowns. And governments need to treat all advisers with equal skepticism.

Choosing between competing moral goods

As a business professor, I teach that capitalism relies upon government skepticism about corporate goals. We expect businesses to push for growth and limit competition. That’s why a healthy capitalist economy depends on governments pushing back with strong antitrust regulations.

Unfortunately, successive governments of all political stripes have been failing in this task. Their failures exacerbated the global crisis of 2008, and are now exacerbating the current crisis.

We expect public health officials to push for lockdowns as they focus on protecting their industry — preserving hospital capacity. In no uncertain terms, this is a moral and socially desirable good, aimed at saving lives by not overwhelming hospitals with COVID-19 cases.

But it’s not the only moral good, and attaining it is not without trade-offs. Our society has never explicitly debated whether the health-care industry is more important than other critical sectors, like education. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s “it took me about 30 seconds to decide” comment justifying the latest school closures is problematic precisely for that reason. Privileging hospitals over schools may be the right call … but in a democracy, it should be debated.

We’ve seen evidence that some public health officials acknowledge the trade-offs in play. Remember the open letter signed by more than 1,000 public health professionals in the United States supporting Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns?

When signalling on an issue of social importance (racial justice) that health-care practitioners don’t have the tools to improve upon since they don’t control policing, it was apparently more reasonable to support easing lockdown restrictions than the social risk in entrenching a lockdown stance. That’s a pragmatic trade-off in the face of competing moral goods — one we can debate.

A similar logic is on display with masking guidance. We know more about the effectiveness of masking now than at the start of the crisis. Yet, public health officials have still encouraged the wearing of ineffective masks, even though there are harms. Masking children, for example, may have negative developmental implications.

A little girl in a pink skirt and grey jacket with a turquoise and pink backpack puts on her face mask.
A young girl puts on her face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 as her parents drop her off at her elementary school in North Vancouver, B.C., in September 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

But the guidance signals a position on a divisive social issue, exemplified by Dr. Joshua Barocas, an American infectious diseases physician, who stated: “… wearing a mask can just be a symbol. It can show people that you are committed to the cause.”

Again, this stance is perfectly reasonable when considering the common good. But so is an opposing opinion. These are the types of debates government should be facilitating.

Proportionality and reciprocity

With the latest restrictions, Canadian public health officials are failing to meet their own ethical standards.

The public health ethics framework calls for “proportionality: potential benefits should be balanced against risks of harm.… If a limitation of rights, liberties or freedoms is deemed essential to achieve an intended goal, the least restrictive measures possible should be selected” and “reciprocity: those who are asked to take … greater or disproportionate burdens in order to protect the public good should be supported by society in doing so.…”

The harm associated with the closing of schools is impossible to enumerate. How are proportionality and reciprocity being enacted for our children? How are governments going to mitigate the damage to a generation of learners, the most vulnerable of whom may never catch up?

Which is to say nothing about the repeated targeting of certain industries, like hospitality, fitness and the arts, while others — including big box retail, private long-term care homes and major league sports — have been protected, largely due to government lobbying.

Two men in Leafs jerseys, one with his mask under his chin and the other with a mask over his mouth and nose.
Hockey fans are seen at a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montréal Canadiens in Toronto in September 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jon Blacker

The distinction between rule-makers and those who benefit from those rules has been difficult to maintain as changes in our public health environment became a destructive social and economic force.

Nonetheless, governments cannot simply promote public health officers to the position of rule-makers. Integrating health, business and social policy is a complex, multifaceted, long-term exercise. The protection and empowerment of citizens is a higher-order good which makes the freedom to create prosperity possible.

Governments need to learn from mistakes in past crises: don’t over-rely on lobbyists and those with the most complex algorithmic modelling tools. Bring a multitude of voices to the table and facilitate debate on what defines the common good. There is no lockdown severe enough, or stimulus generous enough, to assure that the society that emerges after the crisis will be an equitable and prosperous one.

David Weitzner receives funding from SSHRC.

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A dog has caught monkeypox from one of its owners, highlighting risk of the virus infecting pets and wild animals

The monkeypox virus can easily spread between humans and animals. A veterinary virologist explains how the virus could go from people to wild animals in…

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A dog in Paris has become the first case of a pet contracting monkeypox from its owners. Cavan Images via Getty Images

A dog in Paris has caught monkeypox from one of its owners, both of whom were infected with the virus, according to a scientific paper published on Aug. 10, 2022. This is the first case of a dog contracting the monkeypox virus through direct contact with skin lesions on a human.

I am a veterinary pathologist and virologist who has been working with poxviruses for over 20 years. I study how these viruses evade the immune system and am working on modifying poxviruses to prevent infection as well as treat other diseases, including cancer.

With monkeypox spreading in humans throughout the world, my colleagues and I have begun to worry about the increased risk of monkeypox spreading from humans to animals. If monkeypox spreads to wildlife species in the U.S. and Europe, the virus could become endemic in these places – where it has historically been absent – resulting in more frequent outbreaks. The report of the infected dog shows that there is a decent chance these fears could become a reality.

A microscope image of a bunch blue circles in a brown-colored cell.
The monkeypox virus – the blue circles in this image of an infected cell – is a poxvirus similar to smallpox and cowpox and can easily infect many different species. NIAID/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

A species-jumping virus

Monkeypox is a poxvirus in the same family as variola – the virus that causes smallpox – and cowpox viruses and likely evolved in animals before jumping to humans. Monkeypox causes painful lesions in both humans and animals and, in rare cases, can be deadly. Researchers have found the monkeypox virus in several species of wild rodents, squirrels and primates in Africa, where the virus is endemic. Monkeypox does not need to mutate or evolve at all to be able to infect many different species. It can easily spread from animals to people and back again.

Though there is a fair bit of research on monkeypox, a lot more work has been done on cowpox, a similar zoonotic poxvirus that is endemic in Europe. Over the years, there have been several reports of cowpox infection spreading from animals to humans in Europe.

From people to animals

Until recently, most monkeypox infections occurred in specific areas of Africa where some wildlife species act as reservoirs for the virus. These outbreaks are usually contained quickly through isolation of infected individuals and vaccinating people around the infected individual. The current situation is very different though.

With nearly 40,000 cases globally as of Aug. 17, 2022 – and more than 12,500 cases in the U.S. alone – monkeypox is now widespread within the human population. The risk of any one person transmitting the virus to an animal – particularly a wild one – is small, but the more people are infected, the greater the chances. It’s a numbers game.

There are a number of ways viruses can transfer from animals to people – called spillover – and from people back to animals – called spillback. Since monkeypox is most easily spread through direct skin-to-skin contact, it is a bit more difficult to transmit between species than COVID-19, but certainly possible.

The case of the dog in Paris provides a clear example of how cuddling or being close to a pet can spread the virus. Previous studies on poxviruses like monkeypox have shown that they can stay active in fecal matter. This means that there is a risk of wild animals, likely rodents, catching it from human waste.

A grey rat.
There are a number of species that host monkeypox in Africa – like this gambian rat. Monkeypox can spread from humans to many other animals, including dogs and likely cats and other species of rodents. Louisvarley/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The monkeypox virus is also present in saliva. While more research needs to be done, it is potentially possible that an infected person could discard food that would then be eaten by a rodent.

The chances of any one of these events happening is extremely low. But I and other virologists worry that with more people becoming infected, there is a greater risk that rodents or other animals will come into contact with urine, feces or saliva that is contaminated with the virus.

Finally, there is the risk of people giving monkeypox to a pet, which then passes it on to other animals. One case study in Germany described an outbreak of cowpox that was caused when someone took an infected cat to a veterinary clinic and four other cats were subsequently infected. It is feasible that an infected household pet could spread the virus to wild animals somehow.

How to help

One of the key reasons that the World Health Organization was able to eradicate smallpox is that it only infects people, so there were no animal reservoirs that could re-introduce the virus to human populations.

Monkeypox is zoonotic and already has several animal reservoirs, though these are currently limited to Africa. But if monkeypox escapes into wild animal populations in the U.S., Europe or other locations, there will be always be potential for animals to spread it back to humans. With this in mind, there are a number of things people can do to reduce the risks with regard to animals.

As with any infectious disease, be informed about the signs and symptoms of monkeypox and how it is transmitted. If you suspect you have the virus, contact a doctor and isolate from other people.

As a veterinarian, I strongly encourage anyone with monkeypox to protect your pets. The case in Paris shows that dogs can get infected from contact with their owners, and it is likely that many other species, including cats, are susceptible, too. If you have monkeypox, try to have other people take care of your animals for as long as lesions are present. And if you think your pet has a monkeypox infection, be sure to contact a veterinarian so they can test the lesion and provide care when needed.

Even though monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency, it is unlikely to directly affect most people. Taking precautionary steps can protect you and your pets and will hopefully prevent monkeypox from getting into wildlife in the U.S., too.

Amy Macneill does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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UBC researchers discover ‘weak spot’ across major COVID-19 variants

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a key vulnerability across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the…

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a key vulnerability across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the recently emerged BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants.

Credit: Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, UBC

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a key vulnerability across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the recently emerged BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants.

The weakness can be targeted by neutralizing antibodies, potentially paving the way for treatments that would be universally effective across variants.

The findings, published today in Nature Communications, use cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to reveal the atomic-level structure of the vulnerable spot on the virus’ spike protein, known as an epitope. The paper further describes an antibody fragment called VH Ab6 that is able to attach to this site and neutralize each major variant. 

“This is a highly adaptable virus that has evolved to evade most existing antibody treatments, as well as much of the immunity conferred by vaccines and natural infection,” says Dr. Sriram Subramaniam (he/him), a professor at UBC’s faculty of medicine and the study’s senior author. “This study reveals a weak spot that is largely unchanged across variants and can be neutralized by an antibody fragment. It sets the stage for the design of pan-variant treatments that could potentially help a lot of vulnerable people.”

Identifying COVID-19 master keys

Antibodies are naturally produced by our bodies to fight infection, but can also be made in a laboratory and administered to patients as a treatment. While several antibody treatments have been developed for COVID-19, their effectiveness has waned in the face of highly-mutated variants like Omicron.

“Antibodies attach to a virus in a very specific manner, like a key going into a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key no longer fits,” says Dr. Subramaniam. “We’ve been looking for master keys — antibodies that continue to neutralize the virus even after extensive mutations.”

The ‘master key’ identified in this new paper is the antibody fragment VH Ab6, which was shown to be effective against the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Kappa, Epsilon and Omicron variants. The fragment neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 by attaching to the epitope on the spike protein and blocking the virus from entering human cells.

The discovery is the latest from a longstanding and productive collaboration between Dr. Subramaniam’s team at UBC and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, led by Drs. Mitko Dimitrov and Wei Li. The team in Pittsburgh has been screening large antibody libraries and testing their effectiveness against COVID-19, while the UBC team has been using cryo-EM to study the molecular structure and characteristics of the spike protein.

Focusing in on COVID-19’s weak points

The UBC team is world-renowned for its expertise in using cryo-EM to visualize protein-protein and protein-antibody interactions at an atomic resolution. In another paper published earlier this year in Science, they were the first to report the structure of the contact zone between the Omicron spike protein and the human cell receptor ACE2, providing a molecular explanation for Omicron’s enhanced viral fitness.

By mapping the molecular structure of each spike protein, the team has been searching for areas of vulnerability that could inform new treatments.

“The epitope we describe in this paper is mostly removed from the hot spots for mutations, which is why it’s capabilities are preserved across variants,” says Dr. Subramaniam. “Now that we’ve described the structure of this site in detail, it unlocks a whole new realm of treatment possibilities.”

Dr. Subramaniam says this key vulnerability can now be exploited by drug makers, and because the site is relatively mutation-free, the resulting treatments could be effective against existing—and even future—variants.

“We now have a very clear picture of this vulnerable spot on the virus. We know every interaction the spike protein makes with the antibody at this site. We can work backwards from this, using intelligent design, to develop a slew of antibody treatments,” says Dr. Subramaniam. “Having broadly effective, variant-resistant treatments would be a game changer in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.”


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German Official Trashes Cost Of Living Protesters As “Enemies Of The State”

German Official Trashes Cost Of Living Protesters As "Enemies Of The State"

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

A top German…

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German Official Trashes Cost Of Living Protesters As "Enemies Of The State"

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

A top German official has trashed people who may be planning to protest against energy blackouts as “enemies of the state” and “extremists” who want to overthrow the government.

The interior minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Herbert Reul (CDU), says that anti-mandatory vaxx and anti-lockdown demonstrators have found a new cause – the energy crisis.

In an interview with German news outlet NT, Reul revealed that German security services were keeping an eye on “extremists” who plan to infiltrate the protests and stage violence, with the unrest being planned via the Telegram messenger app, which German authorities have previously tried to ban.

“You can already tell from those who are out there,” said Reul. “The protesters no longer talk about coronavirus or vaccination. But they are now misusing people’s worries and fears in other fields. (…) It’s almost something like new enemies of the state that are establishing themselves.”

Despite the very real threat of potential blackouts, power grid failures and gas shortages, Reul claimed such issues were feeding “conspiracy theory narratives.”

However, it’s no “conspiracy theory” that Germans across the country have been panic buying stoves, firewood and electric heaters as the government tells them thermostats will be limited to 19C in public buildings and that sports arenas and exhibition halls will be used as ‘warm up spaces’ this winter to help freezing citizens who are unable to afford skyrocketing energy bills.

As Remix News reports, blaming right-wing conspiracy theorists for a crisis caused by Germany’s sanctions on Russia and is suicidal dependence on green energy is pretty rich.

“Reul, like the country’s federal interior minister, Nancy Faeser, is attempting to tie right-wing ideology and protests against Covid-19 policies to any potential protests in the winter.”

“While some on the right, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), have stressed that the government’s sanctions against Russia are the primary factor driving the current energy crisis, they have not advocated an “overthrow” of the government. Instead, they have stressed the need to restart the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, end energy sanctions against Russia, and push for a peaceful solution to end the war.”

Indeed, energy shortages and the cost of living crisis are issues that are of major concern to everyone, no matter where they are on the political spectrum.

To claim that people worried about heating their homes and putting food on the table this winter are all “enemies of the state” is an utter outrage.

As we highlighted last week, the president of the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Stephan Kramer, said energy crisis riots would make anti-lockdown unrest look like a “children’s birthday party.”

“Mass protests and riots are just as conceivable as concrete acts of violence against things and people, as well as classic terrorism to overthrow it,” Kramer told ZDF.

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Tyler Durden Thu, 08/18/2022 - 03:30

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