Some top scientists have rejected a conspiracy theory claiming that the novel coronavirus was made in a lab.
Earlier in the month, the U.S. State Department released an internal cable from 2018 saying that the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China "has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory," The Washington Post reported.
Some Western politicians, who have been peddling the conspiracy theory that the virus escaped from the Chinese lab since the outbreak of the pandemic, deem the cable as a piece of evidence for their unproven speculation.
However, Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, emphasized that people should not draw too much from the cable's claims, according to the report.
"It was written in January 2018, two years before when this pandemic is judged to have started, and a great deal of change can happen within a lab like this in two years time," he was quoted as saying.
"My judgement continues to be that (COVID-19) is consistent with a naturally occurring source," the scientist told The Washington Post.
Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, also told The Washington Post there is no evidence to "support the idea that this (the virus) is released deliberately or inadvertently."
Actually, studies on the origin of the virus have overwhelmingly showed that the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, originated naturally rather than from any institution.
A study conducted at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's vector-borne viral diseases laboratory in Maryland suggested that SARS-CoV-2 may have been well adapted in human before the outbreak in Wuhan, the South China Morning Post reported on Sunday.
The new study "may cast doubt on a theory that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory," said the report.
In an article published recently in Nature Medicine, researchers concluded that their analysis clearly shows that the novel coronavirus "is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus."
The study, led by Kristian Andersen, a biologist with the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the Scripps Research Institute in California, focused on two features of SARS-CoV-2, namely its spike protein and backbone.
Noting the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone, the researchers said in the article that "we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged all to pledge to work for inclusive societies and economies that leave no one behind.
"If the world is to put human dignity and human rights at the centre of the COVID-19 response and recovery, we need to do more to protect trafficking victims and prevent vulnerable people from being exploited by criminals," he said.
The UN chief made the remarks in a message marking the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons honours the first responders helping to end the crime of human trafficking: law enforcement officers, social workers, healthcare professionals, NGO staff and many others working around the world to protect the vulnerable.
Like the frontline heroes saving lives and sustaining our societies in the COVID-19 pandemic, these providers are keeping vital services going throughout the crisis -- identifying victims, ensuring their access to justice, health, social assistance and protection, and preventing further abuse and exploitation.
"I thank these first responders and urge all governments and societies to join their cause, including through the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons," said the UN chief.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many global inequalities, created new obstacles on the path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and left millions of people at greater risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage and other crimes, Guterres said.
"Women and girls already account for more than 70 per cent of detected human trafficking victims, and today are among the hardest hit by the pandemic," he said.
With previous downturns showing that women face a harder time getting paid jobs back in the aftermath of crisis, vigilance is especially important at this time, Guterres said on this World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
The fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars, but UN agencies and partners insist that, if effective measures are put into place, the amount of plastics discarded every year can be significantly cut, or even eliminated.
1) Pollution driven by huge increase in mask sales
The promotion of mask wearing as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 has led to an extraordinary increase in the production of disposable masks: the UN trade body, UNCTAD, estimates that global sales will total some $166 billion this year, up from around $800 million in 2019.
Recent media reports, showing videos and photos of divers picking up masks and gloves, littering the waters around the French Riviera, were a wake-up call for many, refocusing minds on the plastic pollution issue, and a reminder that politicians, leaders and individuals need to address the problem of plastic pollution.
2) A toxic problem
If historical data is a reliable indicator, it can be expected that around 75 per cent of the used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas. Aside from the environmental damage, the financial cost, in areas such as tourism and fisheries, is estimated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at around $40 billion.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that, if the large increase in medical waste, much of it made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics, is not managed soundly, uncontrolled dumping could result.
The potential consequences, says UNEP, which has produced a series of factsheets on the subject, include public health risks from infected used masks, and the open burning or uncontrolled incineration of masks, leading to the release of toxins in the environment, and to secondary transmission of diseases to humans.
Because of fears of these potential secondary impacts on health and the environment, UNEP is urging governments to treat the management of waste, including medical and hazardous waste, as an essential public service. The agency argues that the safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response.
“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” says Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”
3) Existing solutions could cut plastics by 80 per cent
A woman sorts through bags of discarded plastic in Côte d'Ivoire.
However, this state of affairs can be changed for the better, as shown by a recent, wide-ranging, report on plastic waste published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and sustainability thinktank Systemiq.
The study, “Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution”, which was endorsed by Inger Andersen, head of the UN environment agency UNEP, forecasts that, if no action is taken, the amount of plastics dumped into the ocean will triple by 2040, from 11 to 29 million tonnes per year.
But around 80 per cent of plastic pollution could be eliminated over this same period, simply by replacing inadequate regulation, changing business models and introducing incentives leading to the reduced production of plastics. Other recommended measures include designing products and packaging that can be more easily recycled, and expanding waste collection, particularly in lower income countries.
4) Global cooperation is essential
In its July analysis of plastics, sustainability and development, UNCTAD came to the conclusion that global trade policies also have an important role to play in reducing pollution.
Many countries have introduced regulations that mention plastics over the last decade, an indicator of growing concern surrounding the issue, but, the UNCTAD analysis points out, for trade policies to be truly effective, coordinated, global rules are needed.
“The way countries have been using trade policy to fight plastic pollution has mostly been uncoordinated, which limits the effectiveness of their efforts, says Ms. Coke-Hamilton. “There are limits to what any country can achieve on its own.”
5) Promote planet and job-friendly alternatives
Whilst implementing these measures would make a huge dent in plastic pollution between now and 2040, the Pew/ Systemiq report acknowledges that, even in its best-case scenario, five million metric tons of plastics would still be leaking into the ocean every year.
A dramatic increase in innovation and investment, leading to technological advances, the report’s study’s authors conclude, would be necessary to deal comprehensively with the problem.
Furthermore, UNCTAD is urging governments to promote non-toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable alternatives, such as natural fibres, rice husk, and natural rubber. These products would be more environmentally-friendly and, as developing countries are key suppliers of many plastic substitutes, could provide the added benefit of providing new jobs. Bangladesh, for example, is the world’s leading supplier of jute exports, whilst, between them, Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire account for the bulk of natural rubber exports.
“There’s no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave,” said Tom Dillon, Pew’s vice president for environment. As the organization’s report shows, “we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature”.
Although the scientists around the world are struggling to find a vaccine and cure for Covid-19, misinformation, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths, and sham cures on different social media platforms seeming to have no antidote.
Experts said that the bad information flow has been seriously undermining efforts to slow the virus around the world, reports AP.
Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said, “It’s a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem.”
According to the Johns Hopkins University tally, death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday which is the highest in the world so far.
Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.
The social media hype escalated this week when the U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus.
“It was revealed that Russian intelligence has been spreading propaganda about the crisis through English-language websites,” the AP report said.
In the U.S., the hard-hit Florida reported 216 deaths, breaking the single-day record it set a day earlier.
Texas confirmed 313 additional deaths, pushing its total to 6,190, while South Carolina’s death toll passed 1,500 this week, more than doubling over the past month.
In Georgia, hospitalizations have more than doubled since July 1.
The global pandemic has captivated the kids at home depriving them from choosing various adventures like finding a book from a store they like or walking around alone for a while in freedom.
The year 2020 has been the opposite for kids to choose their own adventure stories, reports AP.
A rising kid can learn the curriculum virtually, complete worksheets and projects, and take tests but nothing can replace the knowledge and experience he gains from being around his peers five days a week and sharing their intellectual curiosity.
Their options have dwindled amid the pandemic and windows of opportunity have appeared to crack open, only to slam in their faces.
As the debate rages over whether U.S. schools should reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, the kids are facing intangible harm that comes with kids being away from school.
During this pandemic, kids wake up and go straight to the TV, their tablets or a video-game comfort. Sometimes parents can do something with their kids to break up the monotony sometimes they cannot.
However, the kids understand the need to sacrifice and be vigilant about preventing the spread of the virus.
They have accepted disappointment while mostly maintaining their good cheer but the sacrifices are profound for them, much more so than me giving up live music, sports or travel for a year or two.
The pandemic will supposedly affect the kids’ mental health and their view of the world for years or decades to come.