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The latest chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic has been defined by vaccines and variants, the lineages of SARS-CoV-2 that have undergone notable mutations and taken root in different parts of the world. The most infamous examples of this line-up are the UK variant (aka the Kent variant), the South African variant, and the Brazilian variant – but the US has got more than its fair share of worrying variants too.
New preliminary research has reported that seven lineages of SARS-CoV-2 are on the rise across the US. Curiously, the seven variants have all independently gained similar mutations to the spike protein of the surface of the virus.
The new study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, was posted on the preprint server medRxiv.
The report explains that seven independent lineages of SARS-CoV-2 with S:Q677H or S:Q677P mutations arose between August and November 2020. While it’s not certain whether the new variants in the US are innately more contagious, they are certainly on the rise in the southcentral and southwest US. Infections with SARS-Cov-2 viruses carrying a mutation called Q677P were first detected on October 23, 2020. Between December 1, 2020, and January 19, 2021, it represented almost 28 percent of cases detected in Louisiana and over 11 percent of cases in New Mexico.
All of these variants obtaining similar mutations might sound like an unlikely coincidence, but researchers do have some clear ideas about why this might be the case.
“The simplest explanation is that the mutations we are seeing at this site – Spike position 677 – might be one of the many subtle ways that this virus is fine-tuning itself to infect human cells,” Jeremy Kamil, co-author of the paper and a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport, told IFLScience.
“However, we have no evidence yet as to whether these changes make the virus any more transmissible or dangerous. Indeed, it has been plenty dangerous all along. One might conjecture that they could —potentially— give the virus some sort of slight advantage over one of its siblings that doesn’t have the change. I will stress that [if] there are any effects of these mutations, we expect they would prove to be quite small, and quite subtle,” Dr Kamil added.
Mutations are a natural part of the virus life cycle and, over the course of the pandemic, there have been thousands of SARS-CoV-2 variants that have undergone subtle mutations – most of which are inconsequential or harmless. However, if those mutations somehow provide the virus with an advantage over others, then they provide the opportunity to thrive. If they are all obtaining the same or similar mutations, then that could be a sign the mutation is beneficial for whatever selective pressures they are facing.
As Dr Kamil indicates, this instance is an example of convergent evolution, the process whereby different organisms independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar conditions. This is the reason why bats, bugs, and birds all have wings; they evolved them separately, as they provided the animals with an evolutionary advantage over others. It’s also the reason why so many crustaceans have independently evolved into a crab-like form.
It’s something that’s also been seen in other parts of the world with other variants of SARS-CoV-2. For example, there were some reports of the UK variant mutating further and obtaining changes to the spike protein mutation found in the Brazilian and South African variants, known as E484K. Once again, scientists speculated that the mutation was giving the virus some kind of evolutionary advantage.
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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Feb. 16…
What we are watching in Canada …
There is new guidance from Canada’s national advisory committee on immunization that says adults from racialized communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic should be prioritized for shots in the second stage of the vaccination campaign.
Essential workers who can’t do their jobs from home moved into the second stage, instead of focusing on health workers with lower-risk jobs, under the advice given Monday.
The second stage is expected to start this spring after the provinces vaccinate all staff and residents at long-term care homes, adults aged 70 or older, front-line health workers and adults in Indigenous communities.
The list of groups that should receive COVID-19 vaccines in the second stage includes people between 60 and 69 years old, racialized adults from groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19, essential workers, first responders, caregivers and residents and staff of congregate living sittings including homeless shelters, prisons and migrant workers’ quarters.
The committee added a third stage to its immunization recommendations that includes people between 16 and 59 years old with underlying conditions, those who are between 50 and 59 years old with no underlying conditions, and health workers and essential workers who are didn’t got shots in previous rounds.
The new recommendations prioritize racialized adults from groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic ahead of some older non-racialized people.
Health authorities in the provinces and the territories decide who gets vaccinated first.
Also this …
Now that a lawsuit against him has been dropped, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he will continue to fight for equality outside the courts.
Ujiri thanked Raptors players, staff, ownership and fans in a statement Monday for standing with him throughout the lawsuit, which stemmed from an altercation with a California law enforcement officer at the 2019 NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif.
The lawsuit, filed by Alameda County sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland and his wife, Kelly, was dropped on Wednesday, as was a countersuit filed by Ujiri.
“I have decided my fight isn’t a legal one,” Ujiri said in the statement.
“Now the challenge is this: What can we do to stop another man or woman from finding themselves in front of a judge or behind bars because they committed no crime other than being Black? That is the work that each one of us must commit to, every day.”
A video of Ujiri speaking on the incident recorded in August, around the time videos of the incident were circulating, was posted Monday on the Raptors’ Twitter feed.
“When I look at this I ask: Who are we as people?” Ujiri says in the video. “Who are we as human beings?
“It comes down to human decency.”
What we are watching in the U.S. …
Congress will establish an independent, Sept. 11-style commission to look into the deadly insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday in a letter that the commission will “investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex — and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.”
After former President Donald Trump’s acquittal at his second Senate impeachment trial, bipartisan support appeared to be growing for an independent commission to examine the deadly insurrection.
Investigations into the riot were already planned, with Senate hearings scheduled later this month in the Senate Rules Committee. Pelosi, D-Calif., asked retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore to lead an immediate review of the Capitol’s security process.
In her letter Monday, Pelosi said, “It is clear from his findings and from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened.”
Lawmakers from both parties, speaking on Sunday’s news shows, signalled that even more inquiries were likely. The Senate verdict Saturday, with its 57-43 majority falling 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to convict Trump, hardly put to rest the debate about the Republican former president’s culpability for the Jan. 6 assault.
“There should be a complete investigation about what happened,” said Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump. “What was known, who knew it and when they knew, all that, because that builds the basis so this never happens again.”
What we are watching in the rest of the world …
Passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport were escorted by security guards to buses that took them to nearby hotels on Monday as Britain’s newly established quarantine hotels received their first guests.
Some of the travellers said they had tried and failed to make it to Britain before Monday to avoid the quarantine, which has been established as the government tries to prevent new coronavirus variants from derailing its vaccination drive.
Zari Tadayon, who flew to Heathrow from Dubai and was taken to the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel near the airport, said she had hoped she would be allowed to quarantine at her home in London. She said she felt “horrible” about the enforced 10-day hotel stay.
“How I’m going to cope I don’t know. It’s going to be tough,” she said.
Britain has given a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to almost a quarter of its population, but health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.
Under the new rules, residents of the U.K. and Ireland arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay in designated hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door. In Scotland the rule applies to arrivals from any country.
International travel has already been sharply curbed by the pandemic and Britons are currently barred from going on overseas vacations.
Critics, however, say Britain’s quarantine hotels are being set up too late, with the South African variant already circulating in the U.K.
On this day in 1984 …
Quebec speedskater Gaetan Boucher completed the greatest individual Canadian showing in an Olympic Games. Boucher added the 1,500-metre gold medal in Sarajevo to his gold in the 1,000-metre and his bronze in the 500. Boucher also won the silver in the 1,000 at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.
In entertainment …
Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex will be speaking with Oprah Winfrey in a primetime television interview next month on CBS.
It’s the couple’s first major television interview since Harry and Meghan Markle quit royal duties and bought a home last year in the U.S.
The 90-minute “Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special” will air March 7, CBS announced Monday. Winfrey knows the couple well. She attended their wedding in 2018 and lives near them in Montecito, Calif.
“Winfrey will speak with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, in a wide-ranging interview, covering everything from stepping into life as a royal, marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work to how she is handling life under intense public pressure,” according to CBS. “Later, the two are joined by Prince Harry as they speak about their move to the United States and their future hopes and dreams for their expanding family.”
On Sunday, a spokesperson for Meghan and Harry confirmed that they were expecting a second child. Their first son, Archie, was born in 2019.
A vegan version of the iconic KitKat candy bar is being developed by Nestle.
The Swiss-based company didn’t spell out in its announcement on Monday the exact formula for the new treat to be known as the KitKat V. But it said it would “soon have a delicious plant-based option that delivers the perfect balance between crispy wafer and smooth chocolate that people know and love.”
The company said it already has launched plant-based alternatives to dairy made from rice, oat, soy, coconut, pea and almonds that are found in its non-dairy ice cream, coffee creamers and other products.
The KitKat V, which it said will be launched later this year in “several countries across the globe,” is certified vegan and uses 100 per cent sustainable cocoa, the company said.
As the product is tested it will only be available in the company’s boutique KitKat Chocolatory shops or online, and through select retailers.
It will be available in Britain, where the KitKat was originally developed in York — and where the research on the vegan version was done — but not in the U.S. where the KitKat is produced under a licensing agreement with Hershey’s, the company said.
Nestle said it is not releasing information on other countries participating in the initial roll-out at the moment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021
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from The News And Times.
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from The News And Times.
- North Carolina GOP censures Sen. Burr for impeachment vote NBC News
- What did Trump’s 2nd impeachment accomplish? Yahoo News
- Acquittal Vindicated the Constitution, Not Trump The Wall Street Journal
- Opinion | Impeachment’s Over. Bring On the Criminal Investigations. The New York Times
- Trump’s rot has reached the GOP’s roots The Washington Post
- View Full Coverage on Google News
Donald Trump officially left the White House on January 20. Immediately, he came face-to-face with a whole bunch of financial issues and crumbling business ventures. In this latest episode of The Point, CNN’s Chris Cillizza ticks through the trouble the former president now faces.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Trump’s business was crashing even before the Capitol riot made his brand toxic
Trump reverses course and says his Florida resort won’t be used for G7 summit
18 Revelations From a Trove of Trump Tax Records
These Businesses and Institutions Are Cutting Ties With Trump
Members are quitting ‘sad’ Mar-a-Lago after Trump loses
Donald Trump’s secret sauce for not paying his debts