As I listened to ministers react nervously in recent days to the new Omicron Covid variant, I began to experience an all-too-familiar sinking feeling.
Shall I put it into words? Here we go again, I thought.
Mask mandates have been reimposed in shops, schools and hairdressers, and new swingeing £200 fines will be levied on those who dare to break the rules.
Meanwhile, the inevitable chorus of gloomy voices has begun to sing again: that unholy alliance of scientific ‘experts’ who have been given blanket coverage by the BBC and Left-wing media so often during this pandemic.
The Government has used these voices as justification to impose fresh restrictions on our lives — as well as to threaten more in future.
The Government has used an unholy alliance of scientific ‘experts’ who have been given blanket coverage by the BBC and Left-wing media as justification to impose fresh restrictions on our lives — as well as to threaten more in future.
Mask mandates have been reimposed in shops, schools and hairdressers, and new swingeing £200 fines will be levied on those who dare to break the rules
Right now, the key question is: are any of the new measures actually necessary?
Yes, there remains much we don’t know about Omicron, but the early signs are distinctly encouraging. Many patients have reportedly recovered quickly from what have been very mild symptoms.
Southern Africa, where the variant emerged, has largely avoided panicking. One German epidemiologist, Professor Karl Lauterbach, who is running to be Germany’s next health minister, has even said that a mild strain would be an ‘early Christmas gift’.
Given all that, how much can the Government’s hawkish approach truly be justified?
Very little, I would submit.
Yes, there remains much we don’t know about Omicron, but the early signs are distinctly encouraging
Many patients have reportedly recovered quickly from what have been very mild symptoms
Jenny Harries: Brits shouldn't socialise with people unless necessary
The real danger for most of us now comes not from Omicron or any other coronavirus variant. Instead, it comes from ministers and officials apparently flirting with taking us into yet another era of ruinous restrictions, cancelling Christmas or other cherished holidays, dashing all hope of foreign travel, wrecking the economy and otherwise immiserating our lives at the whim of the state.
Yes, a new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant has been identified. But Professor Lauterbach, a highly respected clinical epidemiologist, suggested yesterday that the variant might even be good news. Why? Because its numerous mutations — twice as many as the Delta variant that swept the world this year — mean that though it may well be more infectious, it could also be less deadly.
In layman’s terms, this means that more people might catch it, but not suffer serious illness. And that is a good thing — certainly compared to a very infectious, very virulent virus with the capacity to sicken or kill large numbers of people.
Anyone infected with a ‘mild’ Covid virus — one unlikely to cause serious disease — will still develop antibodies to guard against future infection. And the more people with such antibodies, the closer we are to the fabled ‘herd immunity’.
This, coupled with the help of our highly successful vaccination programme, could even spell the eventual end of the pandemic — though not, it must be said, the end of Covid.
This is the sort of grown-up discussion ministers should be having with us. Instead, by announcing new restrictions over the weekend, flanked by his two familiar harbingers of doom, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Prime Minister risked terrifying large swathes of the nation all over again — just as they were beginning to catch their breath as the worst of the pandemic was lifting.
Anyone infected with a ‘mild’ Covid virus — one unlikely to cause serious disease — will still develop antibodies to guard against future infection
Coronavirus restrictions, it should not need pointing out, do not work in isolation.
A year ago, I wrote in the Mail how I believed that lockdown was a killer in the making far worse than Covid-19. Today, I stand by that view.
From spiralling hospital waiting lists and delayed cancer treatment to the horrendous impact on the mental health of the nation, I think we are seeing the tip of an iceberg of premature deaths from causes other than Covid — and that, in time, history will reveal the second and third lockdowns, at least, for the folly I believe them to be. That is before you contemplate the ramifications of our sabotaged economy: livelihoods destroyed by the enforced shutdown of businesses and High Street firms shuttered thanks to working-from-home mandates.
'Vaccines very likely to be less effective against Omicron': JCVI
It is imperative that ministers do not go down that dangerous road again — unless some terrible new variant or new virus with a vastly higher death rate does emerge.
Even the most fervent lover of lockdown would be hard-pressed to describe today’s scenario as an Armageddon-in-the-making, especially as the virus is behaving exactly as scientists always suspected that it would.
Just as with flu, it is likely that in years to come the world will experience new waves of this coronavirus. Crucially, there is no evidence that these waves will somehow be ever-more lethal. Instead, it is likelier that this virus, like most pathogens, will become less deadly over time.
This flies in the face of those who favour the ‘just-in-case’ argument: that we must be extra cautious and ready to lock down early again, lest the new variant prove more dangerous than anticipated.
That argument was valid at the start of the pandemic, when we lacked treatments and vaccinations. But it does not hold any longer.
Today, we are well-versed in the ways of our foe. With a few exceptions (usually the unvaccinated), most people are dying with Covid, not necessarily because of it, while others have had an imminent death merely hastened.
Even the most compassionate individual must realise that public policy cannot be founded on trying to mitigate against a death that, however sad, was due sooner rather than later.
A long time ago, when I was a junior doctor working in A&E, I was initially amazed by the fact that among those admitted to hospital with flu and pneumonia symptoms were the young and fit. That is often the nature with the flu virus.
Just as with flu, it is likely that in years to come the world will experience new waves of this coronavirus
A percentage of them would end up in intensive care, and a proportion would die — just as they do today.
Each individual death was terribly sad, of course, but no one would argue they meant that we should change our health policy.
What a contrast with today, when we live in a country increasingly bedevilled by what the former Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption has rightly labelled ‘Covid authoritarianism’.
Flailing Labour politicians, desperate for any stick with which to beat the Government, demand ever-tougher measures: work-from-home advice and yet more masks, with new lockdowns and furlough schemes waiting in the politicians’ arsenal.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon exhorts her citizens to work from home while demanding tougher restrictions down south.
We are not dealing with Ebola, which kills up to 90 per cent of those it infects, but a virus which was found in one Cambridge University study last summer — thanks to vaccinations and better treatments — to have an infection fatality rate of just 0.085 per cent
Many of us are only too happy to let such Cassandra-like prophecies drift over our heads, but there are many others who have been frightened into what feels like near-permanent paralysis in the face of the news headlines and political shroud-waving.
I see this phenomenon among my own friends. There is a clear divide between those who, like me, think we need to get on with our lives, and others who still appear obsessed with Covid, long after the worst of the virus appears to have retreated.
Yet get on we must. We are not dealing with Ebola, which kills up to 90 per cent of those it infects, but a virus which was found in one Cambridge University study last summer — thanks to vaccinations and better treatments — to have an infection fatality rate of just 0.085 per cent.
By all means let us watch this virus closely. But let us also retain the clear perspective and the common sense that should hold in a free society.
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Angus Dalgleish is an oncologist at a London teaching hospital
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.