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US intelligence still divided on Covid-19 origin

Coronavirus pandemic has killed over 4.4 million people and infected over 216 million globally. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for August 28:

Akyiaa Wilson receives a Covid-19 test from technician Adrian Gutierrez at a mobile testing van in New York City, US, on August 27, 2021. (Reuters)

Saturday, August 28, 2021

US intelligence still divided on Covid-19 origin

The US intelligence community has failed to resolve a sharp debate within the Biden administration over whether a Chinese laboratory incident was the source of Covid-19, US officials said in a declassified summary.

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The report, issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to President Joe Biden’s request for an investigation, said a satisfying answer remains out of reach to the question of how exactly a virus that has killed 4.6 million people worldwide started.

“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,” Biden said in a statement after the intelligence summary was released.

Organisations within the sprawling US intelligence community disagreed about the origins of the novel coronavirus. Several thought it emerged from “natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus,” according to the summary.

But they only had “low confidence” in that conclusion, the summary said. Other groups were not able to come to any firm opinion on the origins of the virus.

One intelligence community segment, however, developed “moderate confidence” that the first human infection with Covid was likely due to a “laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology” in China.

The report concluded that analysts would not be able to provide “a more definitive explanation” without new information from China, such as clinical samples and epidemiological data about the earliest cases.

For its part, China has ridiculed a theory that Covid-19 escaped from the state virology lab in Wuhan and pushed fringe theories including that the virus slipped out of a lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, in 2019.

China says US report on Covid origins ‘not scientifically credible’

A US intelligence community report on the origins of Covid-19 “is not scientifically credible” and wrongly claims China is hindering a global investigation of the pandemic, the Chinese Embassy in Washington has said.

New Zealand reports 82 local cases
New Zealand has reported 82 local Covid-19 cases, all in the epicentre Auckland, as the nation remains under a strict lockdown to quell an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.

This brings the number of cases of the community outbreak to429. There are 415 active cases in Auckland and the remaining 14in the capital city Wellington. Twenty-five of the patients are in hospital, two in intensive care, the health ministry said in a statement.

Australia’s New South Wales reports record 1,035 cases

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, has reported a record 1,035 locally acquired Covid-19 infections, exceeding the previous record of 1,029 seen on Thursday.

Two more people have died in the current outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which began in the state in mid-June. There are 778 people now admitted to hospital, 125 of them in the intensive care unit, the New South Wales health ministry said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, reported 64 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases in the 24-hour period, health officials said.

Still, with some 48,800 cases and 991 deaths recorded since the start of the pandemic, Australia has kept its Covid-19 numbers relatively low.

Mexico’s death toll rises to 257,150

Mexico’s Health Ministry has reported 19,556 new cases of Covid-19 and 863 deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country since the pandemic began to 3,311,317 and the death toll to 257,150.

Brazil sees 27,345 new cases, 761 deaths

Brazil has registered 27,345 new coronavirus cases and 761 additional Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

Over 50,000 deaths in Russia last month

Russia’s Federal Statistics Agency Rosstat has said that the country saw 50,421 coronavirus deaths in July – more than double the official government figure.

Russia – the fourth worst-hit country in the world in terms of Covid-19 cases – has struggled with the aggressive Delta variant and sluggish vaccination rates.

Rosstat’s figure – released late on Friday – painted a far darker picture of the pandemic’s toll in the country than official figures suggest, with a government tally saying 23,349 Russians died as a result of Covid-19 in July.

Government figures only take into account fatalities where the virus was established as the primary cause of death after an autopsy.

Rosstat, however, publishes figures under a broader definition for deaths linked to the virus.

According to the agency, more than 350,000 people have died in Russia as a result of coronavirus. The government figure is far lower, at 180,041.

US CDC reveals case, teacher spread Covid to 26 people

An unvaccinated teacher at an elementary school in California spread the coronavirus to at least 26 other people, including 12 students in her classroom, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said.

The health agency said the case highlights the importance of vaccinating school staff in order to protect young children who are not yet eligible for vaccines, as schools reopen amid a new nationwide surge driven by the ultra-contagious Delta variant.

The CDC said the incident took place in Marin County, a suburb of San Francisco.

The teacher, who reported attending social functions from May 13-16, became symptomatic on May 19 but did not take a Covid test until May 21, initially believing the symptoms were due to allergies.

No one involved in the outbreak was hospitalized.

The CDC said the outbreak was likely underestimated because all testing was voluntary.

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