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‘Last chance’: WHO reveals new team to investigate Covid origins – The Guardian

‘Last chance’: WHO reveals new team to investigate Covid origins

A group of 26 experts will also be tasked with examining new pathogens and how to prevent future pandemics

People wearing protective masks and suits disinfecting at Huanan wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, China, in March 2020.

Agence France-Presse

Last modified on Wed 13 Oct 2021 19.45 EDT

The World Health Organization has unveiled a team of scientists it wants to revive the stalled inquiry into Covid-19’s origins, with one senior official saying it may be the last chance.

The group of 26 experts will be charged with producing a new global framework for studies into the origins of emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential – and their remit includes Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said it may be the “last chance to understand the origins of this virus” in a collegiate manner.

The WHO announced earlier this year it would set up a Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (Sago).

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said Sago would urgently assess what was now known, what still remained unknown, and what rapidly needed to be done.

“I anticipate that the Sago … will recommend further studies in China and potentially elsewhere,” she said. “There’s no time to waste in this.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the UN correspondents’ association that Sago’s work should not be “politicised”.

“If we are going to send teams to any other places, I believe it’s not to China because we have received international teams twice already,” he said. “It’s time to send teams to other places.”

In August, China rejected the WHO’s calls for a renewed inquiry on the ground into the origins of Covid-19.

Besides the current Covid crisis, a growing number of high-risk pathogens have appeared or reappeared in recent years, including Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), bird flu viruses, Lassa, Marburg and Ebola.

“The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while Sars-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks.”

The 26 members the WHO has put forward were chosen from a field of more than 700 applications and are drawn from a range of scientific disciplines.

The team is subject to a two-week public consultation.

They include Christian Drosten, the head of Berlin’s Institute of Virology; Yungui Yang of the Beijing Institute of Genomics; Jean-Claude Manuguerra of France’s Institut Pasteur; and Inger Damon from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several of the experts were on the joint WHO-China scientific mission investigating the origins of Covid-19: Vladimir Dedkov, Farag Elmoubasher, Thea Fischer, Marion Koopmans, Hung Nguyen and John Watson.

The terms of reference say the group must give the WHO an independent evaluation of all available scientific and technical findings from global studies on the origins of Covid-19.

It must also advise the UN health agency on developing, monitoring and supporting the next series of studies into the origins of the virus. That could include “rapid advice” on the WHO’s operational plans to implement the next series of studies into the pandemic’s origins, and advice on additional studies.

The pandemic has killed more than 4.85 million people and battered the global economy since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

After much delay, a WHO team of international experts went to Wuhan in January 2021 to produce a first phase report, written in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts. Their March report drew no firm conclusions, but ranked four hypotheses.

Most probable was that the virus jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal, it said. It judged a leak from the Wuhan virology laboratories was “extremely unlikely”.

However, the investigation faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply.

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Manchester Airport evacuated: Police close off terminal as security scare grounds flights – Express

Passengers and staff were told to leave Terminal Two of the airport following a security scare this afternoon. Greater Manchester Police confirmed it was called to the scene shortly after 3pm.

A police cordon has been place in surrounding areas while an investigation takes place.

Pictures from the scene show several police vehicles blocking the entrance to the drop-off point at Terminal Two.

Some flights are currently being diverted to Terminal One, according to reports.

Other passengers at the terminal are understood to kept waiting at the departure gates.

One passenger has reported being stuck inside the airport for more than an hour.

Mathew Spencer tweeted: “Stuck in Terminal 2 now for over an hour with hundreds of people and no information.

“Staff are clueless and refuse to escalate questions, saying it is ‘just’ a serious security matter. @manairport please communicate with us and tell us why we are stuck here.”

In a statement, the force said: “Police were called with a report of a suspicious package in Terminal 2 of Manchester Airport at around 3.20pm today (19 October 2021).

“The terminal has been evacuated as per standard procedure and a cordon has been put in place as a safety precaution while an assessment is carried out.”

A spokesperson for Manchester Airport said: “Following a report of a suspicious package in Terminal Two, a controlled evacuation is taking place as per standard procedure.

“We are in close contact with Greater Manchester Police, who are managing the response, and will provide an update on the situation as soon as possible.”

Terminal Two of Manchester Airport completed its billion pound upgrade in July.

The project planned in 2015 was scheduled to be finished in 2020 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Terminal Two is now equipped with 10 security lanes, which stretch 29-metres long, and features the latest technology to speed up arrivals and departures.

It also has two airport lounges with a capacity of 400 on the upper floor to give waiting passengers a panoramic view of the airfield.

Karen Smart, Managing Director of Manchester Airport, said: “It is a proud milestone for our airport as we begin to emerge from the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, and an important moment in our 83-year history.

“This project was always about offering the modern airport experience that families and businesses across the North deserve as they travel through their international gateway to the world, and our new terminal certainly delivers on that goal.”

Passengers are advised to check departure screens for more information.

Flights to destinations, including Amsterdam, Zurich and Dublin are thought to be affected.

This is a developing news story, more to follow.

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Bullet Rips Through Nelson Chamisa's Vehicle in Orgy of Violence in Zimbabwe's Manicaland Province – VOA Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC Alliance claims that a bullet hit Nelson Chamisa’s vehicle in Manicaland province today where he was expected to hold meetings with traditional leaders and locals as part of his nationwide meet the people tour.

In a series of tweets, the party said, “A bullet flew through one window of the vehicle carrying President Nelson Chamisa & out through the other. This attempted assassination & use of gunshots on President Chamisa’s vehicle & another that is part of his convoy are cause for grave concern.

“There has been another attempted assassination on President Nelson Chamisa. Armed thugs threw large boulders at his vehicle which has been badly damaged. The President’s vehicle sped off & continues to be trailed by more than 12 unmarked cars.”

Party spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, also in a tweet, said, “Violence of the sort experienced in Masvingo has broken out in Mutare where President @nelsonchamisa is set to meet community leaders.”

Mahare claimed that a number of vehicles carrying armed, rowdy thugs were trailing Chamisa’s convoy.

According to the MDC Alliance, party activists accompanying Chamisa, have reported that the Mutare Road has been barricaded with stones and “thugs carrying knives and knobkerries” are causing havoc. Some of them are reportedly armed.

A video posted by the MDC Alliance on its social media platforms shows a vehicle with what looks like two bullet holes in Chamisa’s vehicle.

The party is in the process of reporting the violent attack of MDC Alliance actisits to the police in Manicaland.

Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi was unreachable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.

Zanu PF officials were unreachable for comment. Last week, senior party member Patrick Chinamasa aknowledged that Zanu PF supporters blocked Chamisa from attending meetings in Masvingo.

Chinamasa said the villagers in Chief Charumbira area did not want to be addressed by the opposition leader.

Suspected Zanu PF supporters waiving anti-sanctions placards stoned Chamisa’s advance party in Masvingo last week.

No person has been arrested in connection with the incident.

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Humans Are Actually Terrible at Navigating Cities, Study of Over 14,000 People Shows – ScienceAlert

We design cities. We live in them. We work in them, and we have fun in them. But boy howdy are we bad at getting around them.

According to mobile phone data from over 14,000 people living their daily lives, humans are terrible at calculating the shortest route through city streets. And the reason is really simple: our brains want us to face the direction we are going in, even if that’s not the most efficient way of getting to our destination.

An international team of researchers led by MIT have now called this the ‘pointiest path’, and believe it occurs because our brains prioritize other tasks at the cost of navigational efficiency.

“There appears to be a trade-off that allows computational power in our brain to be used for other things – 30,000 years ago, to avoid a lion, or now, to avoid a perilous SUV,” says architect and engineer Carlo Ratti of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory.

“Vector-based navigation does not produce the shortest path, but it’s close enough to the shortest path, and it’s very simple to compute it.”

The seeds of the study were planted two decades ago, when Ratti was a student at the University of Cambridge in the UK. He noticed that he traveled to his department building along one route, but took a different route to get back to his room. It stands to reason that one route is shorter than the other, but the pattern of behavior held.

Since that time, technology has changed – and now we have the tools for collecting huge amounts of data on our activities. Large numbers of humans in many cities now keep a small, powerful computer on their person that can track their movements, an absolute treasure trove for scientists wanting to know why we choose the paths we do.

This is what the researchers tapped into: Completely anonymized data from over 14,000 pedestrians, whose GPS coordinates were recorded as they moved around the cities of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California over the course of a year. This included over 550,000 paths – enough data to discern some patterns.

Sure enough, a fascinating pattern did emerge. Rather than choosing the shortest path, pedestrians overwhelmingly chose to travel the path that allowed them to more directly face towards their destination as much as possible – even if turning aside would have taken them there more quickly.

Then, the researchers went a step further, generating a model to predict the irrational paths that appeared in the data. This confirmed that people do indeed prefer to face towards their destination.

“Instead of calculating minimal distances, we found that the most predictive model was not one that found the shortest path, but instead one that tried to minimize angular displacement – pointing directly toward the destination as much as possible, even if traveling at larger angles would actually be more efficient,” said computer scientist Paolo Santi of MIT and the Italian National Research Council in Italy.

“We have proposed to call this the pointiest path.”

Moreover, when making a round trip, people tended to choose different routes for the journey to the destination, and the journey back again, just like Ratti had caught himself doing at the University of Cambridge.

The pointiest path hasn’t only been observed in humans. It’s been recorded in animals, too, described as vector-based navigation. These studies suggest the brain navigates by calculating vectors; since most of us don’t have top-down maps in our brains to navigate the way GPS does, vector-based navigation seems to be the next best strategy.

This is because evolution doesn’t seek optimization, but “sure, OK, that works, I’m not dead” – something that has been dubbed “survival of the adequate“.

The study results could help us design better cities, but they also underscore the need to understand the different ways brains and machines work.

“Computers are perfectly rational. They do exactly what code tells them to do. Brains, on the other hand, achieve a ‘bounded rationality’ of ‘good enoughs’ and necessary compromises. As these two distinct entities become increasingly entangled and collide – on Google Maps, Facebook or a self-driving car – it’s important to remember how they are different from each other,” Ratti wrote for The Conversation.

“The more people become wedded to technology, the more important it becomes to make technologies that accommodate human irrationalities and idiosyncrasies.”

The research has been published in Nature Computational Science.

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