A year after first coronavirus death in Wuhan, Covid source still a puzzle

News Network
January 10, 2021

Wuhan, Jan 10: It is the world’s most pressing scientific puzzle, but experts warn there may never be conclusive answers over the source of the coronavirus, after an investigative effort marked from the start by disarray, Chinese secrecy and international rancour.

January 11 marks the anniversary of China confirming its first death from Covid-19, a 61-year-old man who was a regular at the now-notorious Wuhan wet market.

Nearly two million deaths later, the pandemic is out of control across much of the world, leaving tens of millions ill, a pulverised global economy and recriminations flying between nations.

Yet China, which has broadly controlled the pandemic on its soil, is still frustrating independent attempts to trace the virus’ origins and the central question of how it jumped from animals to humans.

There is little dispute that the virus which brought the world to its knees sparked its first known outbreak in late 2019 at a wet market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where wildlife was sold as food, and the pathogen is believed to have originated in an undetermined bat species.

But the trail ends there, clouded by a mishmash of subsequent clues that suggest its origins may predate Wuhan as well as conspiracy theories — amplified by US President Donald Trump — that it leaked from a Wuhan lab.

Establishing the source is vital for extinguishing future outbreaks early, leading virologists say, providing clues that can guide policy decisions on whether to cull animal populations, quarantine affected persons, or limit wildlife hunting and other human-animal interactions.

“If we can identify why they (viruses) keep emerging, we can reduce those underlying drivers,” said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a global NGO focused on infectious disease prevention.

China won early kudos for reporting the virus and releasing its gene sequence in a timely manner, compared with its cover-up of the 2002-03 SARS outbreak.

But there has also been secrecy and shifting stories.

Wuhan authorities initially tried to cover up the outbreak and later spent precious weeks denying human-to-human transmission.

Early on, Chinese officials declared flatly that the outbreak began at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.

But Chinese data in January 2020 showed that several of the first cases had no known links to the now-shuttered market, suggesting a source elsewhere.

China’s story morphed again last March when top Chinese disease control official Gao Fu said the market was not the source, but a “victim”, a place where the pathogen was merely amplified.

But China has since failed to publicly connect any dots, releasing scant information on animal and environmental samples taken at the market that could aid investigators, experts say.

And it has kept foreign experts at arm’s length, with a planned mission by World Health Organization virus sleuths now in limbo after China denied them entry.

On Saturday, a top Chinese health official said the country was now “ready” for the 10-strong team and opened the door to a visit to Wuhan.

Yet “the specific time is being determined”, National Health Commission vice minister Zeng Yixin told reporters.

What the scientists will be allowed to see or may expect to find a year on is also in doubt. Experts say authorities may have destroyed or scrubbed away crucial evidence in a panicked initial response.

“Every outbreak goes the same way. It’s chaotic and dysfunctional,” said Daszak.

“They didn’t do a great job on the animal investigation early on,” he added.

“In some ways, they were quite open, in others they were less than open.”

The reasons for China’s secrecy are unclear, but the ruling Communist Party has a history of suppressing politically damaging information.

Whistleblowers and citizen reporters who shared details of the terrifying early weeks of the virus on the internet have since been muzzled or jailed.

Beijing may want to hide regulatory or investigative lapses to avoid domestic embarrassment or global “blowback”, said Daniel Lucey, a Georgetown University epidemiologist who closely tracks global outbreaks.

The Wuhan market might not even be the issue, Lucey adds.

He notes that the virus was already spreading rapidly in Wuhan by December 2019, indicating that it was in circulation much earlier.

That’s because it may take months or even years for a virus to develop the necessary mutations to become highly contagious among humans.

The market-origin theory is “just not plausible whatsoever”, Lucey said.

“It occurred naturally and it had to have been many months earlier, perhaps a year, perhaps more than a year.”

Augmenting the doubt, in December China said the number of coronavirus cases circulating in Wuhan may have been 10 times higher early in the epidemic than revealed by official figures at the time.

The trail has now gone cold, with the drip of subsequent clues only adding to the confusion, including findings that the virus may have existed in Europe and Brazil before Wuhan’s outbreak, unconfirmed suggestions which China has seized upon to deflect blame.

Daszak remains hopeful the source can be found, especially after US President Donald Trump’s re-election loss.

He blames Trump for killing cooperation with China by politicising the virus — typified by his “China virus” label — and his administration’s promotion of the conspiracy theory that China created it in a lab, which scientists reject.

“I’m confident we will eventually find out the bat species it came from and the likely pathway,” Daszak said.

Others are less certain.

Diana Bell, a wildlife disease expert at the University of East Anglia who has studied the SARS virus, Ebola and other pathogens, said focusing on a particular origin species is misguided.

She says the overarching threat has already been exposed: a global wildlife trade that fosters a “combustible mix” of trafficked species, a known breeding ground for disease outbreaks.

“(The species) actually doesn’t matter. We don’t need to know the source, we just need to stop that sodding mixing of animals in markets,” she said.

“We need to stop the wildlife trade for human consumption.”

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Agencies
February 27,2021

Mukesh Ambani says he will make batteries ahead of a boom in electric  vehicles⁠ | Business Insider India

Mumbai, Feb 27: Reliance Industries Ltd boss Mukesh Ambani is back to being the wealthiest person in Asia.

Despite a brutal week for markets, RIL was relatively unscathed as it said it would spin off its oil-to-chemicals business into an independent unit. With a net worth of about $80 billion, Ambani is again richer than Zhong Shanshan, whose bottled-water company tanked a record 20 per cent this week. The Chinese tycoon is worth $76.6 billion, down more than $22 billion from a peak just last week, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ambani spent most of the past two years leading the ranking of Asia’s richest people, taking over from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma. Then the listing of two companies put Zhong on the map: He grabbed the title from Ambani at the end of December and by early 2021 was the sixth-wealthiest person on Earth, surpassing Warren Buffett. Zhong’s Nongfu Spring Co. more than tripled from its initial public offering to a peak in January as investors flocked to consumer shares, while his vaccine maker, Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co., surged as much as 3,757 per cent.

But the rally faded as the Hong Kong and Chinese stock markets were among the world’s biggest decliners this week. Nongfu shares have erased their gains for the year, while Wantai’s posted a record monthly plunge.

Ambani has focused on pivoting his empire to tech and e-commerce, moving away from energy. Last year, he sold stakes in Reliance’s digital and retail units worth $27 billion to investors including Google and Facebook Inc., lifting his fortune by $18 billion. The spin-off announced this week of the oil-to-chemicals unit — which accounted for more than 60 per cent of the conglomerate’s revenue in the last fiscal year — will help the tycoon bring in more investors and expedite a proposed stake sale to Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

Zhong and Ambani are not the only two swapping titles lately. Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk became the world’s richest person at the start of January before Jeff Bezos regained the No. 1 spot earlier this month as shares of the electronic-car maker fell. Musk lost $15 billion on Monday alone after he tweeted that the prices of cryptocurrencies seemed high — just two weeks after Tesla said it invested $1.5 billion in Bitcoin.

Since then, Musk and Bezos have swapped places twice more. The Amazon.com Inc. founder topped Musk by a $7 billion margin as of Friday.

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Agencies
March 4,2021

city.jpg

Bengaluru emerged as the top performer in the Million+ category in final rankings of Ease of Living Index (EoLI) 2020 and the Municipal Performance Index (MPI) 2020.

Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Surat, Navi Mumbai, Coimbatore, Vadodara, Indore, and Greater Mumbai are the other cities that scored well in the list.

Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs released the final rankings of Ease of Living Index (EoLI) 2020 and the Municipal Performance Index (MPI) 2020 on March 4 in an online event.

The rankings under Ease of Living Index 2020 were announced for cities with a population of more than a million, and cities with less than a million people. 111 cities participated in the assessment exercise that was conducted in 2020.

The analysis categorises them into Million+ populated cities (those with a population of more than a million) and Less than Million populated cites (those with a population of less than a million) along with all the cities under the Smart Cities Program.

Bengaluru emerged as the top performer in the Million+ category, followed by Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Surat, Navi Mumbai, Coimbatore, Vadodara, Indore, and Greater Mumbai.

In the Less than Million category, Shimla was ranked the highest in ease of living, followed by Bhubaneshwar, Silvassa, Kakinada, Salem, Vellore, Gandhinagar, Gurugram, Davangere, and Tiruchirappalli.

Similar to the EoLI index, the assessment framework under MPI 2020 has classified municipalities based on their population- Million+ and Less than Million population.

In the Million+ category, Indore has emerged as the highest ranked municipality, followed by Surat and Bhopal.

In the Less than Million category, New Delhi Municipal Council topped the list, followed by Tirupati and Gandhinagar.

The MPI examined the sectoral performance of 111 municipalities (with Delhi being assessed separately for NDMC, and the three Municipal Corporations) across five verticals which comprise of 20 sectors and 100 indicators in all totality.

The five verticals under MPI are Services, Finance, Policy, Technology and Governance.

The Ease of Living Index (EoLI) is an assessment tool that evaluates the quality of life and the impact of various initiatives for urban development. It provides a comprehensive understanding of participating cities across India based on quality of life, economic-ability of a city, and its sustainability and resilience. The assessment also incorporates the residents' view on the services provided by city administration through a Citizen Perception Survey.

The Municipal Performance Index (MPI) was launched as an accompaniment to the Ease of Living Index. It seeks to examine local government practice in municipalities across areas of services, finance, policy, technology and governance. It seeks to simplify and evaluate the complexities in local governance practice and promote the ethos of transparency and accountability. 
 

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coastaldigest.com news network
March 5,2021

gold.jpg

Mangaluru, Mar 5: The Customs officials on Friday intercepted two passengers at the Mangalore International Airport and seized 238 grams of gold that was being smuggled.

A team, led by Deputy Commissioner Dr Kapil Gade, found gold concealed as gold foils pasted to the bottom of makeup foundation boxes.

The passengers, Kasim Ibrahim Kolad from Gujarat and Mohammed Bashar Ruknuddi from Bhatkal, who had arrived at the airport from Dubai, had also hidden pouches with gold powder under their armpits.

A total of 238 gms of gold valued at Rs 11,00,946 has been seized and further investigation is underway.

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