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China to test thousands of Wuhan blood samples in Covid-19 probe

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CNNChina is preparing to test tens of thousands of blood bank samples from the city of Wuhan as part of a probe into the origins of Covid-19, according to a Chinese official. The move comes amid increasing calls for transparency over the emergence of the virus.

The store of up to 200,000 samples, including those from the closing months of 2019 were pinpointed in February this year by the World Health Organization’s panel of investigators as a possible source of key information that could help determine when and where the virus first crossed into humans.
The samples are kept in the Wuhan Blood Center, and are thought to span 2019, providing real-time tissue samples from a wide swathe of the population in the Chinese city where SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have first infected humans.
The blood bank samples have been retained for two years, Chinese officials have said, in case they are needed as evidence in any lawsuits related to the blood donations they are from.
That two-year waiting period will soon expire for the key months of October and November 2019, when most experts think the virus could first have infected humans. An official from China’s National Health Commission, told CNN preparation for testing is currently underway, and confirmed testing would happen once the two-year limit was reached.
“This provides the closest in the world we’ve seen of real time samples to help us understand the timing of the outbreak event,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
They “absolutely will contain vital clues,” said Maureen Miller, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. She urged China to permit foreign experts to observe the process. “No one will believe any results that China reports unless there are qualified observers at the very least,” she said.
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The head of the Chinese team working on the WHO investigation, Liang Wannian, first said in a July news conference that China would test the samples, adding once the Chinese experts “have the results, they will deliver them to both the Chinese and foreign expert teams.”
Liang said the samples came from the opening tube of a donor blood pouch, sealed shut and then stored, and Chinese experts had “made several assessments and evaluations on the testing methods and action plan, which will be implemented after the expiry” of the two-year limit.
The samples, if stored correctly, could contain crucial signs of the first antibodies made by humans against the disease, experts said.
Liang said in July that while the first reported case was in Wuhan on December 8, “our research and the previous related research papers of Chinese scientists fully suggest … December 8 is probably not the primary case. There might be other cases that occurred before.”
Dr. William Schaffner, from the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine’s infectious disease division, said the samples presented a “fascinating opportunity. You would like to go back to find out exactly during which months this this virus started to leave fingerprints in the human population in China.”
The samples might even indicate who was first infected, where, and their age and occupation, Miller added.
“It is common practice to de-identify the samples,” she said. “So you could strip it down to basic demographics, age, gender neighborhood where they lived. All of those data will be available.”
Schaffner suggested the samples could be brought to Geneva, or another neutral destination, to permit WHO experts to take part in the testing.
He said two possible issues with the samples could be “the integrity of the blood samples — ensuring they had not been recently created,” but also how representative of the population as a whole the blood donors were. Miller said many samples would most likely have been taken from healthy individuals “so they’ll represent asymptomatic cases. And as we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, asymptomatic cases fuel the pandemic.”
Huang said it was unclear to “what extent the outside world would trust the findings as credible or convincing,” and the testing marked an opportunity for China to “tell the world that they are serious about depoliticizing the origins probe.”
How China pushes conspiracy theory on Covid-19 origin 04:04
The Biden administration conducted a 90-day review of the intelligence over how the virus originated, yet an unclassified report had officials still considering both natural transmission from animal to humans and a lab leak as plausible theories, yet unable to determine which was the more likely.
President Joe Biden, on receiving a classified version of the report, said: “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it.”
China has insisted it has been transparent and helpful to the WHO probe, and in its most recent statement about the theory the virus leaked from a laboratory, pointed toward unproven claims about Fort Detrick, US laboratory in Maryland, and the need to examine its recent past

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Health

Spanish researchers pave way for fair play in global Covid testing and research

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thelocal– The World Health Organisation described the accord as the first transparent, global, non-exclusive licence for a Covid-19 health tool, that should help towards correcting the “devastating global inequity” in access.

The deal brings the Spanish National Research Council CSIC together with the global Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and the WHO’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) knowledge-sharing platform.

“The aim of the licence is to facilitate the rapid manufacture and commercialisation of CSIC’s Covid-19 serological test worldwide,” the WHO said.

The test effectively detects anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies developed in response to either a Covid-19 infection or a vaccine.

CSIC, one of Europe’s main public research institutions, will provide the MPP or prospective licencees with know-how and training.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the licence, which will be royalty-free for low and middle-income countries, as “the kind of open and transparent licence we need to move the needle on access during and after the pandemic”.

He added: “I urge developers of Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics to follow this example and turn the tide… on the devastating
global inequity this pandemic has spotlighted.”

C-TAP was founded in May 2020 as a platform for developers of Covid-19 tools to share knowledge and intellectual property.

Set up during the scramble for Covid vaccines and treatments, the health technology repository was first suggested by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado.

The information pool was intended as a voluntary global bank for IP and open-sourced data as part of a common front against the new coronavirus.

However, as it turned out, rival pharmaceutical companies have largely kept their findings to themselves rather than sharing them as global public goods.

Tuesday’s deal “shows that solidarity and equitable access can be achieved”, said Alvarado.

CSIC president Rosa Menéndez said she hoped the move would serve as an example for other research organisations.

‘Preposterous’ tests hoarding

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the test could quantify three different types of antibodies — and crucially, differentiate vaccinated people from those with natural Covid infection.

“This feature will become very important for measuring the number of Covid-19 cases in countries and the impact of control measures,” it said.

In welcoming CSIC’s move, MSF diagnostics adviser Stijn Deborggraeve said it was “preposterous” in a global pandemic that tests were being monopolised by “a handful of privileged people and countries”.

The Geneva-based MPP is a UN-backed international organisation that works to facilitate the development of medicines for low- and middle-income nations.

The antibody test licensing accord is the third Covid-related deal that the global pool has struck in a month.

Last week, the MPP reached an agreement with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to make its prospective antiviral Covid-19 pill available more cheaply in 95 low- and middle-income countries via sub-licensing to generic drug manufacturers.

The MPP signed a similar deal last month with Pfizer’s US rival Merck for its prospective oral antiviral medicine molnupiravir.

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Europe

Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO

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bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.

The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.

The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.

Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.

A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.

But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.

In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.

In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.

A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.

The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.

As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.

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Australia

Perrottet Government moves to extend COVID-19 emergency powers until 2023

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skynewsThe Perrottet Government will extend the use of COVID-19 emergency powers until March 2023 after the New South Wales Health Minister pushed the proposal through Cabinet on Monday.

Cabinet approved Brad Hazzard’s proposal on Monday night which has led to backlash from some Coalition MPs, according to The Australian.

Mr Hazzard’s proposal to extend the powers comes off the back of a recommendation from Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant.

Under the state of emergency powers, the Health Minister has jurisdiction to declare Public Health Orders including restriction of movement, mask mandates, curfews and lockdowns.

The Australian has reported the Health Minister took the proposal to a party room meeting on Tuesday where multiple MPs challenged the necessity for the powers to be extended until March 2023.

It comes as NSW has surpassed the 90 per cent double dose vaccination rate, with greater freedoms being returned to fully jabbed citizens after the state hit 70 per cent and again at 80 per cent.

Greater Sydney endured more than three months of harsh lockdowns while the state boosted its vaccination rate, with the Berejiklian and Perrottet Governments linking COVID-19 jabs with greater freedoms.

The debate within Government ranks comes amid outrage in Victoria over the Andrews Government updating and changing its own emergency pandemic powers.

The Victorian Opposition Leader has argued that Victoria – which joined NSW in easing restrictions in late October – should be focussed on recovery, and the passing of the pandemic powers threatened certainty in the state.

It is understood the NSW Health Minister will address concerns with particular MPs on Tuesday in an emergency meeting.

Premier Dominic Perrottet responded to SkyNews.com.au’s request for comment and said: “Only the health provisions that need to be extended will be extended. I will be carefully considering this matter over the summer break”.

SkyNews.com.au has contacted Mr Hazzard’s office for comment.

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