Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday in support of the Asian American community after a shooting at three local day spas this week left eight people dead, six of them Asian women.
The killings followed a year of mounting anti-Asian violence in the United States, which community leaders say is due to Asian Americans being blamed for the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
Crowds of people wearing masks, waving American flags and carrying posters that read “We are not the virus” and “Stop Asian Hate” stood in front of the golden-domed Georgia State Capitol building on Saturday.
“I want to make sure the world and the people know that I am here and I am visible,” said rally-goer Sunghee Han from Georgia.
“The women who perished, … I see my family in them,” Timothy Phan from Port St. Lucie, Fla., who drove eight hours to attend, told CNN. “I feel like far too often, we’re just erased.”
U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Georgia Democrats elected in January, led the demonstrators in a moment of silence for the victims, video on Twitter showed.
“Let us build a state and a nation where no one lives in fear because of who they are or where they or their family come from,” Ossoff said.
Georgia authorities have yet to determine what drove the suspect, a 21-year-old white man, who was charged with the killings at spas in and around Atlanta on Tuesday. Robert Aaron Long told investigators sex addiction led him to violence, but lawmakers and anti-racism advocates have said anti-Asian bias could have been at least part of the motivation.
“I’m not interested in whether or not he had a bad day,” said Warnock, criticizing a comment by an Atlanta-area sheriff’s department spokesman about Long’s state of mind.
“No matter how you want to spin it, the facts remain the same,” Georgia State Rep. Bee Nguyen told the crowd. “This was an attack on the Asian community.”
Some of the women killed were immigrants and mothers, described by family and friends as hard-working, loving and beloved.
Hyun Jung Grant was among those killed at Gold Spa in Atlanta. Her son, Randy Park, set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for himself and his brother, who are alone now in the United States while the rest of their family is in South Korea.
“She was a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I,” Park wrote.
The shootings prompted an outpouring of grief, from the local community in Georgia to the halls of U.S. Congress. Since Tuesday, mourners have piled flower bouquets and signs, lit candles and said prayers outside the spas where the victims were killed.
U.S. lawmakers decried the spike in anti-Asian violence in a congressional hearing on Thursday, where Democratic Rep. Grace Meng, who is of Taiwanese descent, testified that the “community is bleeding.”
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris met with Asian American community leaders in Georgia to express condolences and implore Americans to stand together against hate.
Real-world findings are starting to back expectations for the level of protection provided by several leading coronavirus vaccines, but there’s still a burning question among scientists: Could the shots actually reduce virus transmission as well?
New research out of Israel offers early clues that at least one vaccine — the mRNA-based option from Pfizer-BioNTech, which is also being used here in Canada — may lead to lower viral loads, suggesting it might be harder for someone to spread the virus if they get infected post-vaccination.
In a study released publicly on Monday as an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed preprint, a team of researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and Maccabi Healthcare Services found the viral load was reduced four-fold for infections that occur 12 to 28 days after a first dose of the vaccine.
“These reduced viral loads hint to lower infectiousness, further contributing to vaccine impact on virus spread,” the researchers wrote.
Virologist Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba, said it’s been a waiting game to figure out whether the protection from illness offered by mRNA vaccines might also curb transmission — a key tool for winding down the pandemic.
“So the data from this, I think, is important,” he said. “It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it starts to tell us that there actually might be some added benefit to these vaccines beyond just reducing severe disease.”
Toronto-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force, agreed these early findings — which still require peer-review — aren’t a scientific “home run,” but do offer hope in the fight against COVID-19.
“This would point in the direction that people who have been vaccinated, who are still infected, may be less likely to transmit starting at about 12 days after their vaccine,” he said.
‘Significantly reduced’ viral loads
Israel is among the world leaders for COVID-19 vaccination rates, with Maccabi Healthcare Services vaccinating more than 650,000 people by Jan. 25, the paper noted, giving the researchers a large pool of data compared to what exists so far in many other countries.
The team analyzed COVID-19 test results from roughly 2,900 people between the ages of 16 and 89, comparing the cycle threshold values of post-vaccination infections after a first dose with those of positive tests from unvaccinated patients.
So, what are cycle threshold values, and how does that potentially tie to viral loads and virus transmission?
Standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 identify the viral infection by amplifying the virus’s RNA until it hits a level where it can be detected by the test. Multiple rounds of amplification may be required — and the cycle threshold value refers to the number of rounds needed to spot the virus.
“If you can detect the virus with very few cycles, there’s probably a lot of virus there,” Bogoch explained. “If you need to keep looking and looking and looking and looking for it, it might be there — it’s just a lot harder to find evidence of the virus genetic material.”
A higher cycle threshold, then, usually means there’s less virus genetic material present, which usually translates to people being less contagious, he said.
Based on an analysis comparing post-vaccination test results up to Day 11 to the unvaccinated control group, the Israeli researchers found “no significant difference” in the distribution of cycle threshold values for several viral genes.
That changed by 12 days after vaccination, with the team finding a “significant” increase in cycle thresholds up to 28 days later.
The result suggests infections occurring 12 days or longer following just one vaccine dose have “significantly reduced viral loads, potentially affecting viral shedding and contagiousness as well as severity of the disease,” the team concluded.
It’s a finding that appears to mimic the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in its clinical trials, which offered some early protection starting 12 days after the first dose and fully kicks in a week after the second shot, with a reported efficacy of around 95 per cent.
More research needed, experts say
The observational study was not a randomized controlled trial — meaning researchers couldn’t conclude a direct cause-and-effect relationship — and has not yet been published in a scientific journal. The research also has notable limitations, its authors acknowledged.
For one, the group of vaccinated individuals may differ in key ways from the demographically matched control group, such as their general health. The study also didn’t account for variants of the virus that may be associated with different viral loads, the team wrote.
With those concerns in mind, experts who spoke with CBC News about the Israeli study stressed that more research is needed to back up the results on a broader scale, and among diverse populations, before being used to fuel policy changes or current approaches to vaccination efforts.
“The data needs to be reviewed by experts and confirmed that it stands up to the quality that we would want to make a conclusion,” said vaccinologist Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax who works with Canadian vaccine developer VIDO-InterVac in Saskatoon.
WATCH | The impact of variants on the race to vaccinate:
South Africa has halted its rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after a study showed it offered minimal protection against mild infection from a variant spreading there. While experts say it’s cause for concern, they say vaccines can be reconfigured to protect against mutations. 2:01
Even so, Kelvin said the data appeared to be treated with the necessary caution, and offers “promising evidence,” while Kindrachuk remains optimistic as well that the findings could prove a useful starting point.
“While we still have to have people using masks, and while we still have to have people distanced, the vaccines may actually also be able to reduce transmission,” he said.
“So, those trends that we’re hoping to see, in regards to trying to curb community transmission for SARS-CoV-2, may be accelerated with a vaccine — and that will hopefully help us get out of this a little bit sooner.”
The Current21:46Vaccine concerns in South Africa
South Africa is facing another hurdle in its fight against COVID-19 after a new study suggested the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is largely ineffective against the dominant variant spreading in that country. Dr. Rinesh Chetty, who works on the front lines of the pandemic in Durban, South Africa, weighs in on the findings. And Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University and the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, tells us what it means for Canada’s vaccination efforts. 21:46
After the virus behind COVID-19 spent 2020 wreaking havoc around the globe, this year started with a bit more hope — vaccination efforts were ramping up, after all — and a tinge of fear.
Multiple new coronavirus variants have been discovered across several continents, from Europe to Africa to South America. Confirmed cases keep popping up in dozens of countries, Canada included.
Scientists are now racing to understand these sets of mutations, all while concerns are growing over their ability to infect people more easily or, in some cases, potentially evade the army of antibodies we create after being infected or vaccinated.
And since widespread transmission means this virus has ample opportunities to mutate again and again and again, these variants won’t be the last. They’re just the ones we know about.
“The more opportunity we give to the virus to replicate, to make more viruses, the more opportunity there is to see that variant of concern — one that won’t be mitigated by our vaccines that we’ve developed,” warned Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
After months of work to develop safe, effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the scientific community now faces a race against time to ward off that scenario.
There’s also a looming question: What happens if we don’t?
Variants could ‘very rapidly’ become prevalent
Kelvin, one of the many Canadian researchers involved in vaccine development, said preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines.
That’s the good news. It’s the “yet” she finds troubling.
“We have to stay on top of this problem,” Kelvin said.
But while new variants might throw a wrench in efforts to suppress transmission by popping up like a game of global whack-a-mole, those ongoing mutations were actually expected, not surprising.
That’s because each virus has a singular goal of replicating itself. With tens of millions of people helping move the coronavirus back and forth between hosts, that means countless replications. Some of those contain random, insignificant mistakes. And when the mistakes prove beneficial to the virus, helping it produce more copies, those errors can become a new normal of sorts — a variant.
It’s just evolution at work, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security in Washington, D.C., and incoming research scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
“What concerns me the most is that the epidemiological data that goes along with some of these variants suggests they could very rapidly become very prevalent — effectively out-competing the other variants in a given area — in a short period of time,” she said.
WATCH | How countries can control emerging coronavirus variants:
Alongside the use of vaccines, virologist and researcher Angela Rasmussen says countries can strive to control emerging coronavirus variants by beefing up surveillance efforts and encouraging the usual public health measures, from mask-wearing to avoiding gatherings. 1:13
Could new variants decrease immune response?
Researchers speculate that may be what happened with B117. The variant was first discovered in the U.K. late last year and is now the country’s dominant strain of the coronavirus — with various officials suggesting it’s at least 50 per cent more transmissible. (Cases have been confirmed in several provinces in Canada as well, and testing is ongoing.)
In the short term, more transmission means more infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Rasmussen said, which offers an incentive for countries to slow case growth. Doing so would both save lives and cut off channels for the virus to spread and mutate.
“It’s also possible that variants may arise that decrease the effectiveness of our immune response to the virus,” said Matthew Miller, a member of the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre in Hamilton.
“But also, of course — and perhaps more worryingly — the immune responses elicited by the currently approved vaccines.”
WATCH | A new coronavirus variant spreads through Brazil:
Three COVID-19 variants are now worrying health officials. The ones first identified in Britain and South Africa are already here. The third is spreading fast in Brazil and beyond. It may be better at dodging the immune response, and even reinfecting survivors. 3:36
For scientists in Brazil, there’s already legitimate cause for alarm.
“We have detected a new variant circulating in December in Manaus, Amazonas state, north Brazil, where very high attack rates have been estimated previously,” read the preliminary findings posted online by a research team led by Imperial College London virologist Nuno Faria.
The new lineage, dubbed P1, contains a “unique constellation” of mutations in the crucial spike protein, which helps the virus penetrate human cells, the report continues. The variant was detected in 42 per cent of samples collected during a stretch in December, but not in samples collected in the months before.
Those new cases also appeared even though an estimated three-quarters of people living in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, had already been infected.
Faria’s report stressed that could mean an increase in transmissibility — the same issue with B117 — or even an ability to reinfect people.
Vaccines ‘modifiable’ in face of new mutations
According to Rasmussen, antibodies seem to have a reduced capacity to neutralize this kind of virus variant based on the spike protein mutations. Echoing Kelvin and Miller’s concerns, she said that’s a key problem, “because if you acquire enough of those mutations, you may get to a point where you have a variant capable of evading vaccine-induced immunity completely.”
But again, it’s not all dire news. Just because antibodies are less effective doesn’t necessarily mean someone would have reduced immune protection, Rasmussen explained, since the body’s immune response is looking at the entire spike protein, not just certain areas that might have a set of mutations.
Miller also noted that while the spike protein tends to be most prone to changing in the face of immunological pressure, there are other vaccine candidates in development that are designed to elicit broader immune responses against a greater array of viral targets to stay one step ahead.
WATCH | Scientists still researching whether vaccine prevents COVID-19 transmission:
As COVID-19 vaccines are administered around the world, scientists continue conducting research to determine how effective the shots are at preventing transmission of the virus. 4:44
“Even in the worst-case scenario, that we see some of these variants spreading and we get a partial response, it’s probably going to mean that the health-care complications, the deaths, are still going to be greatly controlled by a mass vaccine campaign,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University.
And, thankfully, research teams can also pivot, redeveloping existing coronavirus vaccines to target any variants that may prove capable of evading the ones already rolling out globally.
The novel mRNA vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna options currently approved in Canada, are among those that can be more easily tweaked. Those vaccines provide instructions — messenger RNA — to cells, allowing them to make their own spike protein, which someone’s immune system can recognize and fight off in the future.
“That is their genius, that they’re completely and rapidly modifiable,” Chagla said. “The packaging is there, the delivery method is there, all you need to do is change the mRNA sequence.”
The sooner people get vaccinated, ‘the better’
But while the flexibility of vaccination development is reassuring for the long term, it doesn’t tackle the problem at hand: COVID-19 still has its grip on much of the world, the death toll keeps climbing and vaccination efforts remain a race against time as emerging variants keep throwing a wrench in efforts to curb transmission.
“The sooner that we can get a vaccine into people, the better,” Kelvin said.
To save lives and keep health-care systems from collapsing while vaccination programs scale up, she stressed that Canadians also need to ramp up the basic public health precautions that should now be routine.
Physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, staying away from crowds and enclosed spaces — it all matters, perhaps now more than ever, to slow transmission and give the virus fewer opportunities to spread and evolve.
That buys time for Canada to hit its tenuous goal for 2021: getting everyone vaccinated, without any variants getting in the way.
Experts from the World Health Organization are due to arrive in China this week for a long-anticipated investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Monday.
The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts, the National Health Commission said in a one-sentence statement that gave no other details.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the experts would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.
Negotiations for the visit have long been underway. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment last week over delays, saying that members of the international scientific team departing from their home countries had already started on their trip as part of an arrangement between the WHO and the Chinese government.
China’s government has strictly controlled all research at home into the origins of the virus, an Associated Press investigation found, while state-owned media have played up fringe theories that suggest the virus could have originated elsewhere.
The AP investigation found that China’s government is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to scientists researching the virus’ origins in southern China. But it is monitoring their findings and mandating that the publication of any data or research must be approved by a new task force managed by China’s Cabinet, under direct orders from President Xi Jinping, according to internal documents obtained by the AP.
The culture of secrecy is believed to have delayed warnings about the pandemic, blocked the sharing of information with the WHO and hampered early testing. Australia and other countries have called for an investigation into the origins of the virus, prompting angry responses from Beijing.
After Tedros’s statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the country was open to a visit by WHO experts, but that it was still working on “necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans.” China’s disease experts are currently busy with multiple small-scale virus clusters and outbreaks that have been reported in the past couple of weeks, ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
“Our experts are wholeheartedly in the stressful battle to control the epidemic,” Hua said.
There was no immediate comment from the WHO on Monday’s announcement, but U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had earlier told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is fully supportive of Dr. Tedros’ and WHO’s efforts to get a team in there.”
New cases stemmed in China
“It’s very important that as the WHO is in the lead in fighting the pandemic, that it also has a leading role in trying to look back at the roots of this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one,” Dujarric said. “We very much hope” that China’s reported comments that it is working with the WHO and looking for a smooth visit “will happen.”
The virus’ origins have been the source of intense speculation, much of it centred around the likelihood that it was carried by bats and passed to humans through an intermediary species sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese wet markets.
China has largely stemmed new cases of domestic transmission, but said Monday that scores of people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Hebei province, bordering Beijing.
That outbreak comes amid measures to curb the further spread of the virus during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.
China has recorded 87,536 total cases of the virus, including 4,634 deaths. Hospitals are currently treating 673 people for COVID-19, while 506 others are in isolation and under observation after testing positive without showing symptoms., officials said.
The Hebei outbreak has raised particular concern because of the province’s proximity to Beijing. Parts of the province are under lockdown and interprovincial travel has been largely cut off, with those entering Beijing to work having to show proof of employment and a clean bill of health.
Beijing has also seen a handful of new cases, prompting authorities to lock down some suburban communities and require residents to show negative test results to access grocery stores and other public spaces.
Health Canada on Saturday advised people with allergies to any of the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine not to get it, but one doctor said the news shouldn’t discourage those who are eligible from getting inoculated.
“I don’t think Canadians should be too worried,” Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, told CBC News on Saturday.
The announcement from Health Canada comes after two people in the U.K. had severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The agency said both individuals recovered and had histories of severe allergic reactions.
Health Canada said it is monitoring the situation with British health authorities and the vaccine’s manufacturer, and will take any new action if more issues come up.
Chagla said the likelihood of an allergic reaction is “not common at all,” but commended health authorities on being transparent about the risk and sharing the components of the vaccine that could trigger a reaction.
“You do have to communicate out that there may be risks, and rightfully so, and also communicate about the magnitude of that risk and get people to really understand what that means,” he said. “The risk of an allergy happening is probably beyond winning the lottery — that’s not to say it’s not going to happen, but it’s something we need to watch for, it’s something we’re equipped for.
“At the end of the day, it’s probably not going to happen.”
‘COVID-19 is not a benign diagnosis’
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for use so far by Health Canada, although the federal government has also ordered millions of doses of other manufacturers’ vaccines. Canada’s mass inoculation campaign is expected to begin in a few days.
Chagla also stressed that health officials will be monitoring for other reactions to COVID-19 vaccines that may show up over time. He said communication and transparency are the best ways to assuage vaccine hesitancy — as well as clearly stating to those who are eligible the risks of not getting the vaccine.
“COVID-19 is not a benign diagnosis,” Chagla said. “As much as people fixate on the adverse reactions — which are rare — there is an adverse effect of getting COVID-19.”
Britain began its inoculation program earlier this week. After the reports of the allergic reactions, the country’s medicine regulator advised that anyone with a history of anaphylaxis to a medicine or food should not get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
WATCH | U.K. warns those with severe allergies should avoid COVID-19 vaccine for now:
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine caused an allergic reaction in two health-care workers in the U.K. prompting warnings from health officials there for people with severe allergies to hold off taking the vaccine. 3:23
In the U.S., top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators said on Saturday that only people who have previously had severe allergic reactions to vaccines or ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should avoid getting the shot. But, they said most Americans with allergies should be safe to receive this particular vaccine.
“We’re telling people that unless they’ve had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, or one of its components, they can receive it,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA division that authorized the vaccine, said at a press conference.
Pfizer executives said on Friday that there had been no cases of severe allergic reactions to the vaccine during its nearly 44,000 volunteer late-stage clinical trial. That trial excluded people with a history of severe allergic reactions to any vaccine or to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s ingredients.
They said there were no anaphylactic episodes related to the vaccine in the trial, which did include about 6,000 participants respectively in both the vaccine and placebo groups with a range of allergic conditions such as pollen allergies and food allergies. Those participants had a history of symptoms including anaphylaxis.
The following are the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine:
China’s shaky economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is gaining strength as consumers return to shopping malls and auto dealerships while the United States and Europe endure painful contractions.
Growth in the world’s second-largest economy accelerated to 4.9 per cent over a year earlier in the three months ending in September, up from the previous quarter’s 3.2 per cent, official data showed Monday. Retail spending rebounded to above pre-virus levels for the first time and factory output rose, boosted by demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies.
Growth ‘still accelerating’
China is the only major economy that is expected to grow this year while activity in the United States, Europe and Japan shrinks.
The recovery is “broadening out and becoming less reliant” on government stimulus, Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report. He said growth is “still accelerating” heading into the present quarter.
Most Asian stock markets rose on the news of increased activity in China, the biggest trading partner for all of its neighbours. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index added 1.1 per cent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.9 per cent. Markets in South Korea and Australia also rose.
China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.7 per cent on expectations the relatively strong data will reduce the likelihood of additional stimulus that might boost share prices.
Warning on international economy
China, where the pandemic began in December, became the first major economy to return to growth after the ruling Communist Party declared the disease under control in March and began reopening factories, shops and offices.
The economy contracted by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter, its worst performance since at least the mid-1960s, before rebounding.
The economy “continued the steady recovery,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a report. However, it warned, “the international environment is still complicated and severe.” It said China faces great pressure to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
Authorities have lifted curbs on travel and business but visitors to government and other public buildings still are checked for the virus’s telltale fever. Travellers arriving from abroad must be quarantined for two weeks.
Last week, more than 10 million people were tested for the virus in the eastern port of Qingdao after 12 cases were found there. That broke a two-month streak with no virus transmissions reported within China.
Industrial production rose 5.8 per cent over the same quarter last year, a marked improvement over the first half’s 1.3 per cent contraction. Chinese exporters are taking market share from foreign competitors that still are hampered by anti-virus controls.
Retail sales rose 0.9 per cent over a year earlier. That was up from a 7.2 per cent contraction in the first half as consumers, already anxious about a slowing economy and a tariff war with Washington, put off buying. Online commerce rose 15.3 per cent.
In a sign demand is accelerating, sales in September rose 3.3 per cent.
“China’s recovery in private consumption is gathering momentum,” said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp in a report.
Economists say China is likely to recover faster than other major economies due to the ruling party’s decision to impose the most intensive anti-disease measures in history. Those temporarily cut off most access to cities with a total of 60 million people.
The International Monetary Fund is forecasting China’s economic growth at 1.8 per cent this year while the U.S. economy is expected to shrink by 4.3 per cent. The IMF expects a 9.8 per cent contraction in France, 6 per cent in Germany and 5.3 per cent in Japan.
Private sector analysts say as much as 30 per cent of China’s urban workforce, or up to 130 million people, may have lost their jobs at least temporarily. They say as many as 25 million jobs might be lost for good this year.
Canada’s Sara Groenewegen opted out of her pro women’s softball league on Wednesday.
In a post on Twitter, the 25-year-old Surrey, B.C., native, who is diabetic, explained that the decision was made because of health concerns over the coronavirus in the U.S.
“We don’t get a lot of opportunity to play professionally and earn an income in the sport of softball, but no amount of money is worth putting my health at risk at this time,” Groenewegen wrote.
The right-handed pitcher had been set to play in the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited in Chicago at the end of August. The new league is an initiative meant to put power back in the hands of the players. There are no team owners, and the public can purchase equity in the league so that profits go to the athletes.
This decision wasn’t easy, but it is what is best for me and my future. <a href=”https://twitter.com/AUProSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AUProSports</a> <a href=”https://t.co/uNmbXWTNvr”>pic.twitter.com/uNmbXWTNvr</a>
Groenewegen would have starred alongside standouts such as outfielders AJ Andrews and Victoria Hayward in Chicago.
“This decision wasn’t easy, but after much thought, consideration and conversations with my doctors, trainers and coaches, I’ve come to the conclusion that moving to the United States is not in my best interest for me and my future,” Groenewegen wrote.
Groenewegen was part of Canada’s 2015 gold-medal Pan Am Games team as well as the bronze medallists from the 2016 worlds.
She was diagnosed with diabetes at nine years old, and was forced to miss the 2018 world championships after contracting Legionnaires’ disease and being placed in a 10-day medically induced coma.
WATCH | Softball Canada punches ticket to Tokyo with walk-off home run:
Canada beat Brazil 7-0 in a winner-take-all match at the Americas Olympics Qualifier, officially clinching a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 1:56
New research suggests that antibodies the immune system makes to fight the new coronavirus may only last a few months in people with mild illness, but that doesn’t mean protection also is gone or that it won’t be possible to develop an effective vaccine.
“Infection with this coronavirus does not necessarily generate lifetime immunity,” but antibodies are only part of the story, said Dr. Buddy Creech, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. He had no role in the work, published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The immune system remembers how to make fresh antibodies if needed and other parts of it also can mount an attack, he said.
Antibodies are proteins that white blood cells called B cells make to bind to the virus and help eliminate it. The earliest ones are fairly crude but as infection goes on, the immune system becomes trained to focus its attack and to make more precise antibodies.
Dr. Otto Yang and others at the University of California, Los Angeles, measured these more precise antibodies in 30 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and four housemates presumed to have the disease. Their average age was 43 and most had mild symptoms.
WATCH | Questions surround lasting immunity
A new study on COVID-19 immunity has found that people who were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic had their antibodies diminish within two to three months. Though larger studies are needed, the findings cast doubt on antibody testing and herd immunity. 2:01
Researchers found that the antibodies had a half-life of 73 days, which means that half of them would be gone after that much time. It dovetails with a previous report from China also suggesting antibodies quickly fade.
The results “call for caution regarding antibody-based ‘immunity passports,’ herd immunity, and perhaps vaccine durability,” the California authors write.
That’s true, Creech said, but other parts of the immune system also help confer protection. Besides churning out antibodies, B cells develop a memory so they know how to do that again if needed.
“They would get called into action very quickly when there’s a new exposure to the virus. It’s as if they lie dormant, just waiting,” he said.
Other white blood cells called T cells also are better able to attack the virus the next time they see it, Creech said.
Vaccines could protect for longer
Although circulating antibodies may not last long, what we need to know is if and how people remake antibodies if exposed to the coronavirus again and if they protect against another infection, Alison Criss, an immunologist at the University of Virginia, wrote in an email. “We also need to know if there is a protective T cell response” that reappears.
Vaccines, which provoke the immune system to make antibodies, might give longer-lasting protection than natural infection because they use purified versions of what stimulates that response, she noted.
“This shouldn’t dissuade us from pursuing a vaccine,” he said. “Antibodies are only a part of the story.”
The debate is of increasingly urgent relevance to parents across the continent, as policy-makers in U.S. states and Canadian provinces weigh different approaches for reopening classrooms in several weeks.
“I’m very, very, very, very, very non-pro-Trump. But this is an issue — it should not be a political thing. It should be based on the science,” said Dr. Michael Silverman, chief of infectious diseases at the Health Sciences Centre in London, Ont.
“And the science says the kids should be going back to school,” said Silverman, who has completed a paper on the topic, now undergoing peer review.
“There is a consensus among the vast majority of us [in this field] that the schools need to open. And they need to open soon.”
“In general, I still wouldn’t listen to the president on anything having to do with the coronavirus,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
“It just happens to be a coincidence that he might have said something that’s backed by epidemiological data in this case.”
Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, cautioned that areas with serious outbreaks should delay a return, but she said: “Schools should reopen in the fall. I think it’s a priority.”
Trump’s election message
Even as case totals soar across the southern U.S., Trump seems to be keen to campaign for this November’s election on the idea that life is returning to normal.
He has put schools at the centre of that narrative — this week he tweeted repeatedly and held different White House events about reopening.
“The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It’s time to do it,” Trump said at a White House event on the topic.
“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors — and everybody else — to open schools.”
In a tweet that puzzled public health experts, Trump has even pressured the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be more gung-ho, and he blasted the agency.
In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!
The CDC’s recommendations currently include a nine-page checklist for schools on everything from cleaning to distancing practices.
It also offers guidelines for different regional scenarios, saying places with some virus spread should space desks two metres apart and cancel field trips, while places with more severe spread may want to consider shuttering schools again.
U.S. federal immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that different parts of the country might use different approaches based on their current caseloads.
But Fauci’s broad message was that the overall damage to children being outside the classroom is outweighing the benefits: “We should try as best as possible to get the children back to school and the schools open.”
How to reduce risks
Adalja mentioned four things schools can do to reduce the risks of reopening schools:
Have a plan for what to do if cases occur.
Allow at-risk school employees with pre-existing medical conditions to work in isolation.
Create safer spaces: Open windows and hold classes outdoors when possible; separate desks to the greatest extent possible; and try not to shuffle children between classes. (Tuite suggested using churches or universities to add extra class space.)
Make it voluntary: If a family wants children to study at home, let them.
There is some disagreement among experts about what to do in the event of a regional spike in cases — a current problem in southern U.S. states.
Adalja said he favours a more aggressive reopening.
He said he’d be very hesitant to close schools again, even in harder-hit areas. “I was never a major proponent of closing schools because I didn’t think there was strong data to support it.”
The only reason authorities closed schools this spring, Adalja said, was fear that the virus would act like influenza — dangerous to children and easily spread by them.
But COVID-19 is the opposite, he said.
Children’s ‘puzzling’ response to COVID-19
There’s no complete consensus yet on children’s low risk of spreading the coronavirus. But Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Wednesday that officials are weighing the evidence.
“From the science, what we know is that certainly young people, children, are less likely to have more severe consequences if they do get infected with the virus,” he said.
“It also appears that in terms of transmission, young children — at least in some of the studies I’ve seen — do not appear to be as efficient or effective in terms of transmitting the virus to others..”
Njoo said that aspect was “at the heart of the debate.” In terms of managing risk, “it is a bit of a social experiment,” he said.
Adalja said children rarely spread, and are rarely seriously harmed by, COVID-19, based on international evidence from daycares used by the children of essential workers in the U.S.; studies in Taiwan, Finland, Denmark and elsewhere; and states that reopened schools.
He said Canada has had more than 8,000 adult deaths and no child deaths from COVID-19. There is ample evidence that children don’t easily spread the virus, he said.
“We have to educate the public…. Understandably the public is very frightened [about reopening schools],” Silverman said.
“[But] the rationale for continuing to keep kids out of school is misguided. More than that, it’s harmful…. Millions of children are being kept out of school to prevent something extremely rare. We’re doing harm to millions of children.”
Researchers at Brown University in Providence, R.I., attempted to estimate the academic impact of closing U.S. schools this past spring. They published a working paper that said students would lose between 32 and 73 per cent of the likely learning gains in math and reading they would normally have achieved in the 2019-20 school year.
The hardest impact would be on poorer and at-risk students, they said.
Different opinions about what to do in places with spikes
As for places like the U.S. South, with a surge in cases, Silverman said he might take a middle-of-the-road approach. For example, he said, elementary schools might stay mostly open, while high schools could mostly shift back to online learning.
Tuite said she would take a slower approach in areas like the southern U.S.
“I would suggest deferring [reopening],” she said.
Tuite provided a rule of thumb to help authorities decide whether to shut down: Are officials able to contact trace the individuals spreading an outbreak?
She said that’s more useful than setting a number of cases as your benchmark for opening or closing, because raw numbers can be deceiving.
For instance, 10 new cases found randomly in a community is greater cause for alarm than 10 cases traced to one single event, Tuite said.
“[But if tracing is] not happening, I don’t think you could safely reopen schools,” she said.
Teachers’ unions are expressing concern about safety.
The largest U.S. teachers’ union said the country hasn’t properly funded efforts to supply protective gear and modify classrooms.
In Canada, Ontario’s largest teachers’ federation sent the provincial government a 37-page document with requests, including the need to respect collective agreement rules on workload and safety issues.
Ontario high school and Catholic teachers’ groups have sent similar requests and said the provincial government has not consulted meaningfully.
A doctor arrested after writing an article about Egypt’s fragile health system. A pharmacist picked up from work after posting online about a shortage of protective gear. An editor taken from his home after questioning official coronavirus figures. A pregnant doctor arrested after a colleague used her phone to report a suspected coronavirus case.
As Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s handling of the health crisis.
At least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus hit Egypt in February, according to rights groups. Other health workers say they have been warned by administrators to keep quiet or face punishment. One foreign correspondent has fled the country, fearing arrest, and another two have been reprimanded over “professional violations.”
The coronavirus is surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. As of Monday, the Health Ministry recorded 76,253 infections, including 3,343 deaths — the highest death toll in the Arab world.
“Every day I go to work, I sacrifice myself and my whole family,” said a doctor in greater Cairo, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, like all doctors interviewed for this story. “Then they arrest my colleagues to send us a message. I see no light on the horizon.”
In 2013, el-Sissi, as defence minister, led the military’s removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, after his brief rule sparked nationwide protests. Since then, el-Sissi has stamped out dissent, jailing Islamist political opponents, secular activists, journalists, even belly dancers.
Now the clampdown has extended to doctors who speak out about their working conditions.
A government press officer did not respond to requests for comment on the arrests of doctors and journalists.
Doctors buy own masks
In recent weeks, authorities have marshalled medical supplies to prepare for more patients. The military has set up field hospitals with 4,000 beds, scaled up testing and ordered companies to churn out face masks and other supplies.
But health workers are sounding the alarm on social media. Doctors say they are forced to purchase surgical masks with their meagre salaries. Families plead for intensive care beds.
The pandemic has pushed the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, a non-political professional group, into a new role as the sole advocate for doctors’ rights.
Last month, the union released a letter to the public prosecutor demanding the release of five doctors detained for expressing opinions about the virus response.
Another syndicate member, Mohamed el-Fawal, landed in jail last week, after demanding online that the prime minister apologize for comments that appeared to blame health workers for a spike in deaths.
Incensed doctors hit back, saying they’re under-trained, underpaid and under-resourced, struggling to save patients. So far, 117 doctors, 39 nurses and 32 pharmacists have died from COVID-19, according to syndicate members’ counts. Thousands have fallen ill.
Security forces shut down a syndicate press conference that was to respond to the prime minister’s comments and discuss supply shortages, according to former leader Mona Mina.
“These doctors have no history of activism, they were arrested because they offered criticism of their very specific professional circumstances,” said Amr Magdi of Human Rights Watch, which has confirmed the arrests of eight doctors and two pharmacists. Two have been released, he said, while the rest remain in pretrial detention.
In one case, security agents burst into the home of Hany Bakr, an ophthalmologist north of Cairo, according to his lawyer and Amnesty International, over his Facebook post that criticized the government for sending aid to Italy and China while Egypt’s doctors were short of equipment.
In March, public prosecutors accused 26-year-old Alaa Shaaban Hamida of terrorism charges after she let a colleague call the government coronavirus hotline from her phone instead of first reporting the case to her managers, according to Amnesty International. Three months pregnant, she remains in pretrial detention.
Doctors in three provinces say administrators threatened to report them if they publicly expressed frustration toward authorities or failed to show up for work.
In one voice recording obtained by The Associated Press, a health deputy in a Nile Delta province can be heard saying, “Even if a doctor is dying, he must keep working . or be subjected to the most severe punishment.”
A doctor in Cairo shared WhatsApp messages with the AP from his manager, alerting staff that their attendance was monitored by state security. In two other hospitals in the capital, workers retracted letters of collective resignation over working conditions for fear of reprisals.
The suppression of criticism in Egypt is hardly unusual, analysts say, but the government has become more jittery as the pandemic tests its capabilities and economy.
With borders shut and planes idled, Egypt’s critical tourism revenue has vanished. Last week, fearing further economic fallout, the government reopened much of society and welcomed hundreds of international tourists to resorts, even as daily reported deaths exceeded 80.
Bulwark against regional instability
“Because of Egypt’s constant attention to its image as a place open for tourism, open for business, open for investment, authorities appear particularly sensitive to divergent perspectives during the pandemic,” said Amy Hawthorne, an Egypt expert at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
At least 15 individuals have been arrested for broadcasting “false news” about the pandemic, said the U.N. human rights office. Four Egyptian journalists who reported on the outbreak remain in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has labelled Egypt among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China.
In March, Egypt expelled a reporter for The Guardian who cited a report disputing the official virus count. Egypt’s state information body summoned The Washington Post and New York Times correspondents over their critical coverage during the pandemic.
Despite growing human rights abuses, the international community counts on Egypt as a bulwark against regional instability, said a Middle East-focused rights advocate at the U.N., speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss policy matters.
“There is no appetite,” the advocate said, “to address what is going on in Egypt let alone sanction them in any way for what the government is doing to their own people.”