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Japan Joins Growing List Of Countries Closing Borders As More Omicron Cases Detected Globally

Japan Joins Growing List Of Countries Closing Borders As More Omicron Cases Detected Globally

Speaking on CNBC Monday morning following a holiday weekend in the US marked by rising hysteria over the new "Omicron" variant, Moderna CEO Stephane

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Japan Joins Growing List Of Countries Closing Borders As More Omicron Cases Detected Globally

Speaking on CNBC Monday morning following a holiday weekend in the US marked by rising hysteria over the new "Omicron" variant, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel warned that any country that has received flights from southern Africa over the last two weeks very likely has already imported this new, highly infectious variant - even as others push back against claims that the new variant is hyper infectious.

For whatever reason, the mainstream media is choosing to amplify voices like Bancel's who are warning that the variant may be "highly infectious" while affirming that vaccine makers are working on new boosters specially designed to battle variants like omicron and others amid speculation the new variant can get around natural immunity from prior infection, as well as immunity fostered by being "fully vaccinated".

CNBC also bagged an interview with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who said Pfizer's as-yet-to-be-released antiviral, Paxlovid. It's expected that Paxlovid would likely be just as effective against omicron. Bourla said that the company would have all the information that it needs 'within weeks'. This information would help it ascertain the threat posed by the new variant. Bourla also said Pfizer could tweak its vaccine recipe to deliver an omicron-focused booster.

South African scientists have demanded that jab makers deliver these magical new boosters first to the south African countries where the mutant strain was first detected. Somehow, we highly doubt American vaccine-makers will prioritize African countries when the first cases of omicron have already been detected in the US. More quietly, a Pretoria doctor responsible for advising the South African government said over the weekend that symptoms of domestic cases linked to omicron have been "mild" so far.

In other omicron-related news, Japan announced early Monday in the US that the Japanese government would bar entry of all new foreign visitors beginning Nov. 30 over concerns about the omicron variant.

Japanese PM Fumio Kishida didn't clarify whether the new curbs applied to foreigners living and working in Japan, though he did say that Japanese nationals returning from "countries of interest" would be subject to more restrictive quarantine rules.

Ultimately, Japan is waiting for more information on the new variant as it tries to ascertain whether omicron has a chance of living up to the hype. The World Health Organization is holding a special public session with Dr. Tedros, the nominal leader of the organization. Anybody interested can watch video below:

As far as confirmed cases are concerned, Portugal on Monday said it had identified 13 cases of the omicron variant tied to a Lisbon-based soccer club. The club was forced to take part in a top-flight game over the weekend - a game that was abandoned while in progress.

Portugal's national health institute said the 13 players were isolating and that they were all players or staff members of Belenenses, which fielded a depleted team of only nine players against Benfica on Saturday after reporting a coronavirus outbreak.

One player on the Lisbon team recently returned from South Africa, the country where scientists with the Kwazulu-Natal research Innovation and Sequencing Platform first identified the new variant.

Separately, Portugal's health authorities said they are tracing more than 200 passengers who had arrived in Portugal on Saturday from Maputo, Mozambique, one of a handful of southern African nations seen as most likely to export cases of the variant. At least two people on the flight had tested positive for COVID, although it isn't clear whether these cases have been driven by the new variant.

Circling back to the developed world, where scientists are assuming that any country that has received flights from southern African nations over the last two weeks might be vulnerable to a renewed omicron-driven outbreak, Australia has decided to delay the reopening of its borders for two weeks after confirming that two cases of the variant have been identified in Sydney. Japan, which imposed new travel restrictions, has prohibited all tourists since early in the pandemic.

Around the world, countries tightened restrictions pertaining to the border and travel, while some moved ahead with plans to reopen land borders. For example, Singapore and Malaysia went ahead with plans to reopen their land border, while South Korea, on the other hand, announced planned to delay any loosening of COVID restrictions, according to the NYT.

With regard to Biden's "racist" ban, the travel restrictions do not ban flights or apply to U.S. citizens and lawful U.S. permanent residents (barring only foreign travelers from South Africa and seven other southern African countries). However, until the ban started at 12:01 ET Monday, flights from South Africa continued to carry foreign nationals.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, the two airlines that fly direct to Johannesburg said on Friday they do not plan any changes to their South Africa-U.S. flights after the variant was discovered. United currently operates five flights per week between Newark and Johannesburg. Delta operates three from Johannesburg to Atlanta.

Globally, it appears the trend is toward shutting down, not reopening, as a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions began to recall the earliest days of the pandemic, even in the absence of scientific evidence about whether such measures might help to stop the virus's spread. Hours after Israel announced its blanket ban over the weekend, Morocco said Sunday that it would deny entry to all travelers, even Moroccan citizens, for 2 weeks starting Monday. The country will also ban all incoming and outgoing flights for two weeks.

Broad restrictions like these contrasted with restrictions imposed by the US, UK, Canada and the EU, which have all announced bans on travelers from southern Africa only. Indonesia on Monday joined a small but growing list of countries that have barred travel from Hong Kong as well as the southern Africa region. HK detected 2 cases of omicron back on Thursday, as we learned over the weekend. India and Pakistan cited the Hong Kong cases as inspiration for its own travel ban.

Despite the fact that it has delivered more boosters than any other nation (while also vaccinating a higher percentage of its citizens), Israel has imposed some of the most restrictive new travel rules, barring all entrants except those needed for "urgent humanitarian reasons" that must be approved by a special committee.

As far as confirmed cases of the new variant, it has been detected in South Africa and Botswana, as well as in travelers to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. The variant officially arrived to North America late Sunday as public health officials in Ontario confirmed two cases. It's unclear whether the variant has arrived in the US.

Here's a map of the variant's spread courtesy of the NYT:

Source: NYT

And here's a list, courtesy of WaPo:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Botswana
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland (probable case)
  • UK

As for the total number of cases confirmed globally, it's not clear how many omicron cases have been confirmed.

Within the UK, six cases of the variant have reportedly identified in Scotland, according to a Monday morning report from the BBC.

The variant was first identified in South Africa with the first confirmed cases in Botswana and nearby countries.

As the WHO reminds us, fewer than 200 cases of omicron have been confirmed around the world. It's also not clear yet whether the new variant will be as effective at evading vaccine-induced protections as some scientists fear.

As we have noted before, other scientists believe the variant would likely only produce mild symptoms in patients who have already been infected, along with the vaccinated.

Omicron carries about 50 mutations not seen in combination before, including more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to attach to human cells. But as for whether omicron will ultimately prove more deadly than earlier strains, well, it's not yet clear: a growing number of scientists in South Africa and elsewhere have said the symptoms caused by the new strain are "mild to moderate", and ultimately less severe than other strains like delta.

Tyler Durden Mon, 11/29/2021 - 10:34

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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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