Omicron, Delta pave the wave for a new super variant – interaction among experts

December 3, 2021

What happens when two nasty Covid-19 variants get together and share their most effective mutations? Omicron and delta have brought us closer to the answer, says Peter White, a virologist at the University of New South Wales who warns of the inevitability of a new Covid-19 "super strain."

He joined Stephanie Topp, a global public health expert at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and Bloomberg Opinion columnist David Fickling for a Twitter Spaces discussion on the implications of the newest coronavirus variant shaking up the world. Leading the conversation, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, is Bloomberg Opinion columnist Anjani Trivedi.

Anjani Trivedi: Here we are again. Omicron. Were you surprised, Peter?

Peter White: No, I wasn't surprised because this is what viruses do. Viruses are built to change quickly. That's why every year we have to adjust the flu vaccine. Some viruses change quicker than others. We have to adapt as the virus adapts.

Trivedi: Why is it so difficult for scientists to work out, and for us to understand, how a virus actually works on its hosts?

White: Each of these viruses is somewhere in the order of 50 mutations different from the previous variant of concern. So the first thing we need to do is look at the mutations and where they are and what changes could be important. And then, what is the effect. You cannot tell from the sequence exactly what the virus is going to do.

Trivedi: Is there anything that we're able to conclude with any certainty right now about immune resistance and how contagious this specific variant is?

White: From what I've seen, it looks to be about the same severity as delta, and the fact that it's actually taken over Delta indicates that it's more transmissible. We're seeing quite a rapid spread of it across the globe. But it doesn't seem to be more severe. There's no more hospitalizations in South Africa compared to delta.

Trivedi: Many emerging economies really struggled through previous waves, India being a case in point. How has South Africa gotten so far ahead?

Stephanie Topp: They got there by making good decisions based on need. I would say that the imperative to manage and respond to the HIV epidemic in the 1990s and 2000s, has resulted in a great deal of investment in public health, human and material infrastructure. Developing or developed isn't particularly helpful context. We've also seen the United States of America struggle. A lot can be learned about the way public health and politics intersect, and the way that influences what is seen as a priority.

Trivedi: When we think about the resilience of these health systems, how does that translate into distribution of vaccines?

Topp: What we're talking about here is the fair and equitable distribution of these medical technologies. The reason we're failing the so-called self-interest test is because our global economy is not set up to protect the interests of global populations. It's set up to protect the interests of shareholders. So we lack vaccine equity today, because you see very tight knit relationships between governments and large corporations. That result in political choices to benefit a certain very small segment of the global community.

Trivedi: What are your thoughts on why the death toll hasn't been as bad in South Africa and in Sub Saharan Africa so far?

White: It's a much younger population. That's a major factor. I also think there'll be a big underreporting aspect to this. But I don't really know the answer to that question.

Trivedi: How do we tackle this issue of vaccine demand? Something like one in six people in the US have had Covid-19, and nearly 800,000 people have died. What does that mean for going forward, especially in the next few months?

Topp: This is where education and information — not just risk messaging — of a public health response becomes so critical. Because if people haven't heard about it before, then they are susceptible to misinformation. And in our incredibly hyper social-networked world, the capacity of misinformation to reach people before official information is ever-more present. And that abuts, I think, a growing mistrust of politicians who are in charge of delivering those messages.

Trivedi: What should we be watching out for in the next few months? What answers are you looking for in the data, especially with the new variant?

White: You've got to look at the severity of the new variant. The next thing you've got to ask is, "Does the vaccine cover us?" And the answer that we're seeing at the moment is, "Yes." But in the future, it might be, "No." And so I'll be asking Moderna and Pfizer: "Can you tweak your vaccine?" And they are doing this already. And then the thing I think people haven't realized is that we're going to see the largest-scale mutations, known as recombination in virology terms, between variants of concern. So if we mix the best bits of delta with the best bits of omicron, we might create a super new strain that could be better than both of them [at infecting or sickening people]. And so we need to be looking for these hybrid viruses, and they will pop up in the future. They will come.

Trivedi: If we're going to keep getting new variants, how does that work in terms of vaccines and gaining immunity?

White: Vaccines reduce the severity of the disease. The chances of you dying if you've been vaccinated are many, many times reduced. So it's much better to get the vaccine than it is to get the real virus because you could die. So you can still get the virus even if you'd double vaccinated, but you've got less chance of getting it and you're going to be less ill and you've got less chance of passing it on.

Trivedi: What happens with a super-strain when variants combine? How does that play out?

White: We would then be asking the vaccination companies to adjust their vaccines to give us the immunity that we need to protect us from that variant. And we should be able to do that.

Trivedi: Does this change the business model for pharmaceutical companies? This virus is going to keep changing, and they're going to have to keep adapting their vaccines.

David Fickling: For pharma companies, vaccines are a bit of a backwater. It's not a very attractive business. You have to go through a very, very stringent development process that's very capital intensive. And then you basically have no repeat business. [For many vaccines] you are protected for life. And you're having a price negotiation with a very large and powerful buyer (governments). And so you're not going to get a good profit margin compared to something like drugs against diseases of aging, heart disease and cancer in rich countries. That's actually what they want to be spending money doing. Drug companies have been quitting vaccine development. Now Covid has blown this open to a large extent. We've got the whole world being vaccinated once, twice, three times, and then again with boosters reformulations, potentially.

Trivedi: Quarantines, border closures, how effective are these measures from a public health standpoint?

Topp: No single public health measure by itself is sufficient to manage communicable disease. Things like border shutdowns, quarantines, masking, physical distancing and so forth can be effective but come with substantial and unquantified costs. The fact that we now have a medical technology that can mitigate the acute clinical consequences of this disease is an absolute gift. It's gobsmacking to me that we're not making every effort to utilize this to the best advantage. I mean, here is something that would enable us to very much recapture aspects of our daily lives that we value. The fact that we're not is deeply demonstrative of the pathologies now in our governance systems.

White: we need to learn how to live with this virus. And the only way to do that is to stop people dying through vaccination, and then try to find a sensible balance between lockdowns and being back to normal.

Trivedi: What do you think is the single largest challenge we face right now?

Fickling: It's recognizing the type of business that vaccines are. For companies to make a proper return on vaccines, there has to be an unlevel playing field that produces suboptimal public health outcomes. So I think governments actually need to recognize they have a much bigger role to play. We need to regard the vaccine businesses as something that's much better suited to a public-private system.

Topp: Until we recognize that our health systems mirror the same weaknesses that we see in society, the problems we're having in improving coverage and quality and access to technologies like vaccines are going to continue.

White: To stay ahead of this virus will require funding of proper research and proper surveillance systems. What we don't have now is a proper antiviral [treatment]. We're close. In less than a year, we will have proper drugs targeting the virus and they will work well. And when we get those, are the rich countries going to keep them like they did with other viruses?


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News Network
August 9,2022

At least 16 children were among 45 Palestinians killed by Israeli army’s recent 3-day long airstrikes on besieged Gaza strip. Dozens of children were among the 360 injured in the Israeli bombardment from August 5 to 7. Besides, dozens of children were orphaned. 

"There is no safe space in the Gaza Strip for Palestinian children and their families and they increasingly bear the brunt of Israel’s repeated military offensives," Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the accountability programme director at the NGO Defence for Children International - Palestine (DCIP), said in a statement.

While a ceasefire came into effect on August 7 following an agreement brokered by Egypt, Palestinians have lamented the devastating bombing campaign as more details emerge of those who died.

The Israeli army has claimed that some of the civilian casualties were killed by misfired rockets, without providing independently-verified evidence. However, the Palestinian health ministry has rejected the Israel’s claim as blatant lie and confirmed that all of the people killed, including the 16 children, died as a result of Israeli air strikes.

Here is the list of 16 children killed by Israel in 3 days


Alaa ِAbdullah Qaddoum (5)

She was among the first casualties on Friday (August 5) following Israel's decision to launch air strikes on the besieged Gaza Strip. She died while she was playing with friends outside her home in the Shujaiya neighbourhood in the northern Gaza Strip. Her seven-year-old brother and father were wounded in the strike.

Momen Muhammed ِAhmed al-Nairab (5)

He was killed in Israeli air strike on Saturday on the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. The camp is one of the most densely populated places on Earth and houses more than 114,000 people.

Hazem Muhammed Ali Salem (9) 

According to documentation collected by Defence for Children International, Hazem Muhammed Ali Salem, nine, was among the four children in the blast on the Jabalia refugee camp on Saturday. Israel says it wasn't behind the raid, but Palestinian sources say it could not have come from anywhere else.

Ahmed Muhammed al-Nairab (11) 

Ahmed Walid Ahmed al-Farram (16)

They were among the four children killed on Saturday when Israeli warplanes struck the Jabalia refugee camp.

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa), the camp suffers from high unemployment, regular electricity cuts and a contaminated water supply.

Muhammed Iyad Muhammed Hassouna (14)

He was killed when an Israeli air strike targeted his home in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. At least eight people were killed in the raid.

Fatma Aaed Abdulfattah Ubaid (15)

She was among nine children killed in the space of 30 minutes, shortly before the ceasefire was announced. She was killed in Beit Hanoun on Sunday in the northern Gaza Strip.

Ahmed Yasser Nimr al-Nabahin (9)

Muhammed Yasser Nimr al-Nabahin (12)

Dalia Yasser Nimr al-Nabahin (13)

An Israeli air strike on the Bureij refugee camp on Sunday killed Yasser al-Nabahin and his three children, Muhammed Yasser Nimr al-Nabahin, 13; Ahmed Yasser Nimr al-Nabahin, 9; and their sister, Dalia Yasser Nimr al-Nabahin, 13.

Muhammed Salah Nijm (16) 

An Israeli air strike on the Falluja cemetery in northern Gaza on Sunday killed five boys as they sat near a grave.  Muhammed Salah Nijm was among those killed.

Hamed Haidar Hamed Nijm (16)

He was among those killed in Sunday's raid on the graveyard. Four of the boys were cousins and the fifth was their friend, according to local sources. 

Jamil Nijm Jamil Nijm (4)

He was the youngest child to be killed during Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip. 

Jamil Ihab Nijm (13)

He was the fourth child from the Nijm family to be killed in Sunday's suspected air strike.

Nazmi Fayez Abdulhadi Abukarsh (16) 

A friend of the Nijm boys, he was killed in the air strike on the graveyard.

Hanin Walid Muhammed Abuqaida (10)

She was injured in an air strike on the Jabalia refugee camp on Sunday but succumbed to her wounds on Monday.


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News Network
July 31,2022


Mumbai, July 31: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials on Sunday conducted search and questioning at Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut's house in Mumbai after he skipped summons twice for questioning in a money-laundering case. The Shiv Sena leader was summoned by the probe agency on July 27 after he skipped an earlier summon citing the ongoing Parliament session in Delhi.

At 7 am, the probe agency team, accompanied by CISF officials, reached Mr Raut's home in Bandup in eastern suburbs of Mumbai and began the searches.

The Enforcement Directorate wants to question Mr Raut, 60, in connection with the re-development of a chawl in Mumbai and related transactions involving his wife and close associates. Mr Raut, who is in the Uddhav Thackeray camp, has denied any wrongdoing and alleged that he is being targeted due to political vendetta.

"...False action, false evidence...I will not leave Shiv Sena...Even if I die, I will not surrender...I have nothing to do with any scam. I am saying this by taking the oath of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray. Balasaheb taught us to fight. I will continue to fight for Shiv Sena," Mr Raut tweeted shortly after probe agency officials' visit to his home.

Meanwhile, the BJP has welcomed the ED raids at Raut's house. "I am very happy that the ED has intensified its investigation," BJP leader Kirit Somaiya said. BJP leader and MLA Nitesh Rane said that the money of poor Marathi people has been swindled and the ED action was appropriate.

While the ED investigations were under way at his home, Raut's brother and two-time Vikhroli MLA Sunil Raut too was present. 

The Rajya Sabha MP was questioned for about 10 hours on July 1, during which his statement was recorded under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

In April, the Enforcement Directorate attached assets worth over ₹ 11.15 crore of Mr Raut's wife Varsha Raut and two of his associates as part of its probe.

The properties include a flat in Dadar held by Varsha Raut and eight plots at the Kihim beach in Alibaug jointly held by Varsha Raut and Swapna Patkar, the wife of Sujit Patkar, a "close associate" of Sanjay Raut.


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News Network
August 11,2022


Mangaluru, Aug 11: On the lines of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka Police have started attaching the properties of the persons accused of killing BJP Yuva Morcha activist Praveen Kumar Nettare.

However, no such action has been taken against murders of two Muslim men in Dakshina Kannada – Muhammad Fazil and Muhammad Masood. All three were murdered in the span of 10 days – July 19 to July 28. 

ADGP Alok Kumar confirmed on Wednesday that the process of attaching properties of the accused in Praveen murder case is on. The police along with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) will attach the properties of the accused persons, he added.

Kumar also said that the main accused in the case are yet to be arrested.

"We have complete information about the killers of Praveen. The accused persons' photos, information about their family members -- everything has been gathered. However, the main accused in the case are being given shelter. They have been shifted to different places," he said.

"We will hold meetings in different districts. Maintaining law and order in the Mangaluru region is our focus. Action will be taken against those who directly or indirectly helped the main accused persons, in coordination with the NIA. The process of issuing warrants via court is on," Kumar said.

When asked about the involvement of Popular Front of India (PFI) in the murder, Kumar stated that few accused persons do have links with the PFI.

"Investigation in this regard is progressing and information regarding the accused who have links with the PFI would be given soon," he stated.

Kumar added that all the seven arrested accused so far are local residents. Now, the focus is on who gave them the instruction to carry out the murder.

On July 26, bike-borne miscreants attacked BJP activist Praveen at Bellare town in Dakshina Kannada district outside his chicken shop and hacked him to death.

Following the murder, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had cancelled the celebrations of his one year in office. He visited Praveen's family and issued a cheque of Rs 25 lakh as compensation on behalf of the state government. The BJP had given Rs 25 lakh separately.

The incident had triggered a chain of protests by BJP workers all over Karnataka. The agitators had laid siege to Home Minister Araga Jnanendra's residence, causing severe embarrassment to the ruling party.

The probe had revealed that Praveen was targeted for launching a campaign against halal meat.


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