Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,101st day of the pandemic and St. Patrick’s Day as well.
We are now looking at the strongest evidence yet that the pandemic was not caused by a lab leak but rather by an animal at a wet market. A report with the research team’s complete findings hasn’t yet been published but is expected to be released within several weeks. Their analysis was first reported in the Atlantic.
Since the start of the pandemic, many scientists have stood by the notion that this outbreak – like almost all others – had purely natural origins. What was missing was proof: genetic evidence from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, showing that the virus had infected wildlife that were offered for sale there.
The answer isn’t bats, nor is it pangolins nor palm civets. Apparently another suspect species has landed in the spotlight.
A new analysis of genetic sequences, collected from the wet market that show racoon dogs were offered for sale at the there, may have found the missing link. Curiously enough, the genetic samples from the market had been recently uploaded to an international database and were then removed after scientists asked China about them.
The raccoon dog, also called the Chinese or Asian raccoon dog, is a small, heavy-set, fox-like canid native to East Asia. It was named for its racoon-like facial markings, but it is most closely related to foxes.
This week, an international team of virologists, genomicists, and evolutionary biologists may have finally found crucial data to help fill that knowledge gap. A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019. The genetic data links SARS-CoV-2 with the raccoon dogs and the evidence shows that the virus was zoonotic and moved from animals at the wet market to humans.
The genetic samples were obtained after Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market – the wet market in question – was closed. Researchers moved in and swabbed walls, floors, metal cages, and carts used to transport animal cages because of the suspicions that the market was somehow linked to the new virus.
The samples that came back positive for the coronavirus included genetic material that belongs to animals, including large amounts that were a match for the raccoon dog, the researchers said.
In other news we cover today, advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration endorsed the use of Paxlovid for treatment in high-risk adults, the World Health Organization called on China to rerelease data related to the pandemic’s origins, and researchers found that people who sleep six hours or less are more likely to develop Long Covid.
If you sleep fewer than six hours a night, you could be twice as likely to develop Long Covid, researchers at the Chinese University in Hong Kong reported.
Published in the medical journal Translational Psychiatry, the study found that those who slept longer than six hours per night and had received two mRNA doses of coronavirus vaccine were 21% less likely to develop Long Covid than those who had one or no jabs. But fully-inoculated adults who spent less than six hours in bed had a 1.59 times greater risk of developing Long Covid than normal sleepers.
“Many people might think sleeping is a waste of time as you don’t do anything during that time. But more and more studies have pointed out that sleeping is important,” said Professor Wing Yun-kwok, the chairman of the university’s department of psychiatry, on Thursday.
Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration endorsed the use of Paxlovid for SARS-CoV-2 treatment in high-risk adults, voting 16-1 on Thursday in favor. The advisers said that the benefits outweigh any potential risks of side-effects from the drug for treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 in adults who are at high risk for severe disease, including hospitalization and death.
The World Health Organization called on Chinese authorities to release new data linking the Covid pandemic’s origins to animal samples taken from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan after the country recently took down the genetic samples.
Now here are the daily statistics for Friday, March 17.
As of Friday morning, the world has recorded 682.3 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.3 million from the previous day, and just under 6.82 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 655.2 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.2 million.
The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls.
Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Friday at press time is 20,283,095, an increase of 43,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 20,242,894, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 40,201, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past three months.
The United States reported 137,629 new coronavirus infections on Thursday for the previous day, compared to 20,174 reported on Wednesday, 13,115 reported on Tuesday, 1,005 reported on Monday, 1,489 reported on Sunday, 10,161 reported on Saturday, and 55,447 reported on Friday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 27,442. Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.
The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 26,496, a figure down 18% over the past 15 days, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources. The average daily death toll over the same period is 353, a decrease of 35% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 22,802, a decrease of 15%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 3,049, a decrease of 12% and the test positivity rate is now 7.3%, a figure that is down by 16% over the same period.
In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Friday, recorded just under 105.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 1.15 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 44.7 million, and a reported death toll of 530,795.
The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States. Rosstat last reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July 2022, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.
Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 39.7 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 38.3 million total cases.
Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 699,634, has recorded 37.1 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.
The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are Japan, with over 33.3 million cases, South Korea, with just under 30.7 million cases, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with just over 25.6 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.4 million, and Russia, with just under 22.5 million.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 269.7 million people in the United States – or 81.2% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 69.3%, or 230.2 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 673 million. Breaking this down further, 92.2% of the population over the age of 18 – or 237.9 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 79% of the same group – or 204.1 million people – is fully vaccinated. In addition, 19.8% of the same population, or 51.1 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine, while 22.9 million people over the age of 65, or 41.8% of that population have also received the bivalent booster.
Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Thursdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.
Some 69.7% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Friday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information. So far, 13.33 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 362,338 doses are now administered each day.
Meanwhile, only 28.2% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.
In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.
Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)