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I was ensnared in Canada’s harsh and unscientific African travel ban

Ottawa’s travel ban against African countries made clear its underlying policy: What matters is not your test result, but where you’ve been. It’s yet another example of anti-Africa discrimation.

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A researcher at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, works on the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus in December 2021. African countries were penalized by Canada's travel ban even though they discovered the Omicron variant via complex sequencing work when western nations failed to. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Few people would consider airports to be arenas of power plays among nations.

But the reality is that airlines and border control agents are often a country’s first line of defence. Airports can be where foreign policy decisions are subjected to experiments and where, according to Kenyan political analyst Nanjala Nyabola, “the realities of privilege and race in travel are laid bare.”

I discovered this recently during my travel back to Canada from an Omicron-related red-listed country. In retrospect, the journey was a cross between a scene from Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal and a chapter from Nyabola’s book, Travelling While Black.

Both works draw on the intersections between race, gender and class in international travel.

Policy aimed only at African countries

My personal experience involves the Canadian government travel policy — designed to address the COVID-19 Omicron variant — that targeted several African countries. It went into effect on Nov. 26, 2021, and by Dec. 18, 2021, was deemed to have “served its purpose and no longer necessary” given Omicron was present in countries around the world.

Nonetheless, the policy is still worth analyzing because such measures don’t occur in a vacuum — they reflect historical precedents and shape future policies. There is a need to examine whether the policy ever truly served the interests of Canadian citizens.

I was in Nigeria on Nov. 26, 2021, when the government of Canada “enhanced” its border measures to “reduce the risk of the importation and transmission of COVID-19 and its variants.”

This was done by placing additional requirements on Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning from red-listed countries, defined as having a particularly high risk for new and emerging strains of COVID-19. The only countries on the list were African, even though other nations had higher COVID-19 numbers and the variant was present in those nations at the time.

A Black woman in a mask gets a COVID-19 vaccination from a nurse.
A Nigerian civil servant receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria, in December 2021. (AP Photo/Gbemiga Olamikan)

Dubious claim

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, justified the ban on African countries on the basis of low vaccine coverage rates and uncertainty of “their ability to detect and respond [to the variant].” This claim and other African travel bans have been criticized as not being based on scientific evidence.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has repeatedly failed to provide data to support the policy.

An editorial published in the medical journal The Lancet established that the Omicron variant was identified as a result of complex sequencing work done in South Africa when some of the most technologically advanced western countries were unable to conduct the same genome sequencing tests required. Furthermore, it highlighted that unless borders are sealed to travellers from all nations, selective travel bans don’t work.

On Nov. 30, 2021, Canada added Nigeria to the red list. Additional measures required of travellers included enhanced testing, screening and being placed in a designated quarantine facility upon arrival in Canada — regardless of vaccination status or previous test results.

Canada also added an unusual requirement for a valid negative test from a third country within 72 hours of departure to Canada. This measure has received the most criticism from many Canadians, scientists and experts. It meant additional expense and inconveniences for Canadian travellers, including having to travel through insecure and conflict-ridden environments.

A woman in a red jacket gets a PCR test from a nurse in wearing protective personal equipment. A sign reading testing is over their heads.
A traveller arriving at Pearson International Airport gets a COVID-19 test. The author recounts her chaotic experience travelling to Toronto from Nigeria during Ottawa’s dubious African travel ban. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Tug of war between airlines, authorities

Despite having been tested in Nigeria, I decided to have my third-country testing done in the United Kingdom.

I assumed PHAC would not have problems with a non-African lab’s test. However, the COVID-19 testing centres at Heathrow Airport are not inside the airport itself, but required entry into the U.K.

This became a problem, as the country no longer allowed entry for non-residents travelling from red-listed countries. My attempts to get a COVID-19 test became a tug-of-war between British Airways and the UK Border Agency. There was much confusion about what the rules were and how to humanely enforce them. I was initially refused entry, which was devastating after more than six hours flying with a toddler.

Ironically, neither my fully vaccinated status nor multiple negative tests mattered to PHAC upon arrival at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. I was tested at the airport and we were taken to a designated quarantine facility.

The sub-standard conditions in these facilities — especially the lengthy wait times for test results and for authorization to leave from PHAC — have received a lot of media coverage.

A person is seen in silhouette closing the curtains of a hotel room window.
People quarantine in a hotel near the Vancouver airport. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

More testing centres needed most of all

How exactly did any of these measures serve their supposed purpose? Canadian COVID-19 testing centres were backlogged because the focus was on requiring hundreds of travellers to get re-tested and quarantined, instead of taking more proactive domestic measures to ensure Canadians had easy access to testing centres.

Although not all African countries were placed on the red list, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief medical officer of health, admitted to factors other than science influencing cabinet decisions.

He said:

“We work … to put together the best advice we can based on the science. Decision-makers take that into account but we recognize there are other considerations at play as well, beyond just strictly sort of technical public health advice that we may be giving to ministers.”

The African travel bans highlight underlying issues in global justice, from vaccine diplomacy and intellectual property barriers to the systemic refusal to recognize African competencies and agency.

It all clearly boils down to what the PHAC agent at Pearson told me: “What matters is not your test result, but where you’ve been.”

Badriyya Yusuf 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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