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Biden Administration Warns Covid-19 Origins Review May Not Be Definitive

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Biden administration officials warn that a 90-day review of the origins of the Covid-19 virus may not provide a definitive explanation as intelligence services rise to the challenge of uncovering the global pandemic.

Espionage agencies conducting the review have yet to find conclusive evidence that would settle the debate on whether the virus came from human contact with an infected animal or leaked from a Chinese government virology lab, said a person familiar with the effort.

President Biden is slated to receive a 45-day update in mid-July, and government officials said even partial progress could narrow the gaps between scientists, politicians and intelligence professionals and reveal clues for further investigation.

Mr. Biden “is aware of the fact that after 90 days we may not have an absolutely definitive answer, but he wanted a focused, intense and time-bound effort,” said a senior administrator.

Experts say knowing the origins of Covid-19 could be important in preparing for future pandemics. The virus has killed more than 600,000 Americans and nearly four million people worldwide, and disrupted the global economy.

Avril Haines, director of the National Intelligence Service, said this spring that she had hired more people to work on pandemic threats.


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jim lo scalzo / Shutterstock

The review is overseen by National Intelligence Agency director Avril Haines, an attorney and former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency with long ties to Mr Biden. It requires the vast intelligence community to train its resources in an area that has long been far less of a priority than the Russian military to spy on terrorist threats or China’s armament: the detection and analysis of global pandemics.

Ms. Haines, who oversees 18 intelligence agencies and has spoken about the need for U.S. intelligence to expand its work on non-traditional threats, told lawmakers this spring that she had hired additional staff to work on pandemic threats .

The Covid-19 origins review is an example of the kind of complex, multidisciplinary work done by espionage agencies increasingly engaging in non-traditional threats, said Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the National Security Agency, who specializes in electronic wiretapping is. “This is where the intelligence community goes,” he said.

Without a breakthrough, the review faces many roadblocks, most notably China’s refusal to provide further access to data and scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosecurity laboratory that has studied coronaviruses. China said the search should reach other countries, citing the conclusion of a World Health Organization-led team of experts earlier this year that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely.”

More than a year after the pandemic, scientists are still debating the origins of Covid-19. WSJ breaks down key events at three locations in China – a fish market, a laboratory, and a mine – to find out how the global health crisis could possibly have started. Photo compilation: George Downs

A daily intelligence briefing Mr Biden received at the Oval Office in February highlighted the intelligence community’s difficulty in identifying the source of the virus. Intelligence officials told Mr. Biden during that session that they had numerous questions about the origin of the virus but did not “have high confidence” in any particular explanation, more than a year after the virus was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan

Mr Biden directed National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to follow up on this, which he did at a meeting with intelligence officials in early March. The White House ordered a written assessment from intelligence officials. The assessment presented to Mr Biden in May showed that one intelligence agency tended to hypothesize the virus leaked from a laboratory and two intelligence agencies that tended to believe that it came about naturally – all of them with low or moderate confidence. Most authorities said there was not enough evidence to make a judgment.

This inconclusive assessment and China’s statement to the WHO that it believes the investigation into the origin of Covid-19 in its country has been completed led to Mr Biden’s order for a period of 90. to start an “Everything on Deck” day period by a senior administrative officer.

In Ms. Haines’ office, officials said the review is being coordinated by the National Counterproliferation Center, which oversees intelligence efforts to combat nuclear, chemical and biological proliferation.

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What are your hopes for the 90-day review of the origins of Covid-19? Join the conversation below.

The National Security Agency, officials said, will search its huge stores of intercepted foreign electronic communications for clues, most of which are not analyzed in real time. The effort is supported by experts from state laboratories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other parts of the Department of Health. Experts from outside the government are also consulted, as are allied intelligence agencies.

One outcome, Biden said in a statement in May when he announced the review, could be a list of specific questions the US would ask China, as well as recommendations about what additional investigations might be needed.

Given the possibility that the intelligence service review may be inconclusive, leading lawmakers, some non-government experts, and a grassroots group of Covid-19 sufferers are already calling for an independent national commission.

“There has not yet been a properly organized, independent and scientific evaluation of all available evidence,” said Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the Commission on the Terrorist Attacks of 11th. Mr. Zelikow leads a prominent foundation-supported planning group for a possible commission to investigate how Covid-19 came about and how to better prepare for future pandemics.

Memorials in a New York City cemetery this month commemorated the lives of people killed by the Covid-19 pandemic.


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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The Trump administration did not organize an intensive government-wide review of the origins of Covid-19, despite intelligence agencies and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory investigating the matter, former Trump administration officials said.

State Department officials also used the arms control bureau, which is charged with assessing compliance with the Bioweapons Convention and other arms control treaties, to request intelligence reports on the origins of Covid-19.

In a data sheet verified by the office of the director of the National Intelligence Service and released on Jan. 15, the State Department reported that several researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were sick with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 or seasonal flu in the fall of 2019. The datasheet also said there were links between the lab and the Chinese military, although the U.S. government failed to determine how the virus began. Biden officials have not challenged or changed these statements.

Andrew Weber, an advisor to the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and a former senior Pentagon official who worked on biological defense programs, said the broad scope and focus of the Biden effort could provide important information.

“It is very rare to do such a deep and intense deep dive,” said Mr. Weber.

However, the longer the time passes after the initial outbreak, the more difficult it becomes to trace its origins, especially without further access from China, according to some experts and former officials.

The US government’s inability to access the Wuhan lab and its staff “will make it very difficult to get to the finish line at the end of the day,” said William Evanina, who was US intelligence chief for nearly six years until January.

Investigation of the origin of Covid-19

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com and Warren P. Strobel at Warren.Strobel@wsj.com

Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Pandemic

Alaska, overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, adopts crisis standards for hospitals

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Health care workers vaccinate tribal and non-tribal patients at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, March 30, 2021. Image taken March 30, 2021. REUTERS / Nathan Howard

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sept. 22 (Reuters) – Alaska, which led most states in coronavirus vaccinations months ago, took the drastic step of rolling out crisis standards across its hospital system on Wednesday, declaring a stifling surge in COVID-19 patients have forced rationing of strained medical resources.

Governor Mike Dunleavy and health officials announced the move as the number of newly confirmed cases across the state hit another daily record of 1,224 patients amid a wave of infections fueled by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant among the unvaccinated.

The delta variant “paralyzes our health system. It affects everything from heart attacks to strokes to our children when they have a bicycle accident, ”said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, at a news conference with Dunleavy.

Idaho, another of several largely rural states where COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed healthcare systems in recent weeks, activated its own crisis care standards across the country last Thursday, spearheading a surge in hospital admissions that “depleted existing resources has exhausted “.

Alaska’s health and welfare officer, Adam Crum, announced that he has signed an Emergency Amendment at the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, which extends to all state standards of emergency care.

The new document limits the liability of emergency medical care providers in all hospitals in Alaska.

It also recognizes the realities of rationed care across the country, prioritizing scarce medical care and staffing so that some patients are denied normal care for the benefit of others, based on how ill they are and their chance of recovery.

For example, some seriously ill patients have had to be treated outside of the intensive care units they would normally be admitted to, Zink said.

“Nursing has shifted in Alaska’s hospitals. The previous standard of care can no longer be provided on a regular basis. It’s been happening for weeks, “Zink told reporters.

To cope with the influx of COVID-19, Alaska has signed a $ 87 million contract to hire hundreds of overseas health workers, officials said.

About a fifth of Alaska’s hospital patients are infected with COVID-19, according to state data. But that number undervalues ​​the burden on the system as a whole as it “squeezes out” the ability to treat victims of automobile accidents, strokes, heart attacks and other ailments, Dunleavy said.

Paradoxically, as early as April, Alaska was among the top states to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of residents, aided in large part by the efforts of the state’s pandemic-aware indigenous people. Continue reading

Alaska has since fallen below the national average, with only 58% of residents 12 and older being fully vaccinated, according to the state database. The vaccination slump coincided with significant political opposition to public health demands.

In May, voters in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, elected a new mayor, Dave Bronson, who campaigned against health mandates and repeatedly voiced his refusal to be vaccinated. Dunleavy has spoken out against any vaccine mandate.

At Wednesday’s press conference, the Republican governor defended his positions, citing Alaska’s third-lowest rate of COVID-19 deaths per capita in the nation.

Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Adaptation by Steve Gorman and Christopher Cushing

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pandemic

FACT SHEET: Targets for Global COVID-19 Summit

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We invite all participants of the Global COVID-19 Summit to align with us on the global goals and to take the associated necessary measures to end the COVID-19 pandemic and build it better. These global goals and the related actions by governments, international institutions and the private sector are based on the goals set by the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator, the G20, the G7 and members of several expert commissions.

These goals and the associated measures are ambitious – but they are what we need to get on track to end this pandemic and with it the risk it poses to our countries, communities, health and livelihoods. We must act now to vaccinate the world, save lives and build better things. Only if we work together on a shared vision can we defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and help prepare the world for future pandemics.

We also invite all attendees to join in to monitor our progress together. By gathering information about what each of us is doing, we can measure our progress and take the necessary steps to avoid falling behind.

OBJECTIVES: VACCINATION OF THE WORLD

  • Vaccinate the world: Support the WHO’s goal of ensuring that at least 70 percent of the population in every country and in every income bracket are fully vaccinated with high-quality, safe and effective vaccines by UNGA 2022.
  • Deliver cans urgently: Support the G20 goal of “in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) we support the goal of vaccinating at least 40 percent of the world’s population by the end of 2021”.
  • Making cans in the medium and long term: Additional doses and adequate supplies will be available to all countries in 2022. As the scientific evidence progresses, allocate sufficient funding to produce additional doses for future booster needs in LIC / LMIC.

Asks about governments and international institutions with the appropriate skills: autumn 2021

  • Close the funding and coverage gap for Low Income Countries (LICs) / Low Middle Income Countries (LMICs) for 70 percent coverage by funding, purchasing, or donating an additional 1 billion doses of high quality, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccines, including through COVAX, to support equitable distribution worldwide.
  • Speed ​​up LIC / LMIC vaccination in 2021 by ordering. accelerate Approx. 2.0 billion doses of high-quality, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that have already been promised, including by converting existing promises to split doses into short-term deliveries, exchanging delivery dates to ensure earlier delivery of doses to LIC / LMICs, and removing cross-border bottlenecks in the supply of vaccines and critical inputs.
  • Get Shots in the Arms by providing at least $ 3 billion in 2021 and $ 7 billion in 2022 to fund LIC / LMICs for vaccine readiness and effective use, including supporting the health workforce required to deliver vaccines, combating hesitation, fulfilling legal and contractual requirements, and procuring relief supplies.
  • Make cans available in the medium and long term by supporting sufficient global and regional production, as well as financing possible refreshment needs and future vaccine production; Expansion of the production of mRNA, viral vectors and protein subunits of vaccines (if approved) and technology transfer; and the procurement of up to 3 billion additional doses of high quality, safe and effective vaccines against LIC / LMICs if booster vaccination is recommended by the WHO.
  • Improve accountability and coordination by establishing a robust global dashboard for vaccines, consumables and excipients in 2021, taking into account ongoing efforts to achieve that goal.

Proposed private sector commitments: autumn 2021

  • Start the COVID-19 Corps for Vaccine Readiness and Delivery.
  • Improve transparency on the volume of actual and expected vaccine manufacturing; Provide production forecast and delivery sequence data to the vaccine dashboard to prioritize delivery for LIC / LMICs.
  • Expand global and regional manufacturing for mRNA, viral vector, and / or protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines with a plan for development and funding.

OBJECTIVES: SAVE LIVES NOW

  • Solve the oxygen crisis by making oxygen easily accessible to inpatient healthcare facilities in all countries at short notice and by 2022 at the latest.
  • Eliminate the test gap by achieving test rates of one per 1,000 people per day in all countries by the end of 2021.
  • Improve timely access for all countries to approved, safe and effective therapeutics by making them available to all LIC / LMICs in 2021 and effective new non-IV treatments available in 2022.
  • Development of capacities for the production of PPE for surges and strengthen the coordination of existing stocks to improve access to PPE for all LIC / LMIC healthcare workers in 2021, with excess capacity available for each region in 2022.
  • Improve the detection, monitoring and containment of new COVID-19 variants by improving genome sequencing and data sharing worldwide in 2021 and 2022.

Asks about governments and international institutions with the appropriate skills: autumn 2021

  • To provide $ 2 billion in coordinated support to oxygen ecosystems, including increasing the availability of bulk liquid oxygen in LIC / LMICs by 2022.
  • Fund at least 1 billion high quality, safe, and effective kits / tests for LIC / LMICs by 2022.
  • Donate and deliver $ 1 billion in sufficient courses of approved COVID-19 therapeutics for LIC / LMICs by 2022 and $ 2 billion in 2022 and establish a mechanism for the equitable procurement and delivery of therapeutics.
  • Support the development of capacities for the manufacture of PPE for surge protection and strengthen sales in all regions in 2022.
  • Advocate the G7 / S7 Carbis Bay Declaration to enhance global variant tracking and analysis capabilities by providing resources for expanded global capabilities and supporting the concept of a global pandemic radar.

Proposed private sector commitments: autumn 2021

  • Working with countries and international institutions, develop and fund a $ 2 billion global strategy to support oxygen ecosystems, including the provision of bulk liquid oxygen and other support to inpatient facilities in all countries by the end of 2022.
  • Improve test production by making test kits available in LIC / LMIC for no more than $ 1 per antigen kit.
  • Expand production and provide approved therapeutics for 12 million severe and critical patients.
  • Promote advanced development, including clinical trials and voluntary technology transfer

for next generation COVID-19 therapeutics (ideally oral) for resource poor environments.

  • Commit to bringing together global stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, who are dedicated to building and coordinating transformative capabilities for global variant tracking.

OBJECTIVES: BETTER REDUCTION

  • Create sustainable health security funding by establishing and funding a Global Health Security Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) in 2021.
  • Catalyze political leadership and awareness of biological crises, including by setting up a management level body such as the Global Health Threats Council (GHTC) in 2021.
  • Support the G20 Presidency’s call for a global council of health and finance ministers.

Asks about governments and international institutions with the appropriate skills: autumn 2021

  • At least 30 countries and at least 10 organizations will sign a global health security FIF with a common vision in terms of size, amount of start-up funding (e.g. USD 10 billion) and hosting (e.g. World Bank).
  • Announcing commitments in 2021 to saturate FIF for urgent preparedness needs, with concrete proposals for medium-term sustainable funding that include sources outside of ODA.
  • Surge production commitments and resilient supply chains for PPE, tests, therapeutics and vaccines in all regions.
  • Work on establishing a leadership body like the GHTC in 2021, including designating a chair and co-chair.

Proposed private sector commitments: autumn 2021

  • Individuals or organizations pledge contributions to FIF and launch a “challenge” that brings the non-governmental sector together to sustainably support global health security.
  • Individuals or organizations call together individuals and charities to set up their own mutual fund that feeds the FIF.
  • Individuals or organizations urge governments to set up a GHTC at the political level, which should include seats for civil society, the private sector and / or experts.

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Pandemic

Biden doubles Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine purchase to 1 billion doses, will share with world

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(AP) – President Joe Biden will announce that the United States will double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 syringes to share with the world to 1 billion doses as he aims to reach 70 over the next several years % of the world population vaccinated year.

The increased US engagement is said to be the cornerstone of the global vaccination summit, which Biden is practically meeting on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where he wants to get wealthy nations to do more to get the coronavirus under control.

“Our city has let us down”: The city of Georgetown will not punish the Ponderosa Pet Resort for operating it without a kennel permit

Leading politicians, aid agencies and global health organizations are getting louder and louder about the slow pace of global vaccination and unfair access to vaccination between residents of wealthy and poor nations.

The U.S. purchase will bring the total U.S. vaccination requirement to more than 1.1 billion doses by 2022, according to two senior Biden government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s statements. At least 160 million vaccinations have been delivered by the US and distributed in more than 100 countries, which is more donations than the rest of the world combined.

The latest purchase reflects only a fraction of what it takes to meet the goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population – and 70% of the citizens of every nation – by the next UN meeting in September. It is a goal driven by global aid groups that Biden will use his weight to achieve.

The White House said Biden will use the summit to urge other countries to “commit to higher ambitions” in their vaccine exchange plans, including specific challenges they face. Officials said the White House would publicly release the goals for wealthy nations and nonprofits after the summit concludes.

The American response has been criticized as being too modest, especially as the government advocates giving tens of millions of Americans booster vaccinations before vulnerable people in poorer countries have even received an initial dose.

“We have found that multilateralism has failed to respond in a fair and coordinated manner at the most pressing moments. The existing gaps between the nations in relation to the vaccination process are unknown, ”said Colombian President Iván Duque on Tuesday before the United Nations.

In the past year, more than 5.9 billion doses of COVID-19 were administered worldwide, which is about 43% of the world’s population. But there are big differences in the distribution, as many lower-income countries have difficulty vaccinating even the weakest part of their population, and some vaccination rates are still above 2-3%.

In remarks to the United Nations on Tuesday, Biden acknowledged that he had shared more than 160 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with other countries, including 130 million excess doses and the first installments of more than 500 million vaccinations that the US had for the rest USA buy world.

Other leaders made it clear in advance that this was not enough.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said the “triumph” of rapid vaccine development was offset by a political “failure” that led to an unjust distribution. “In science there was cooperation; in politics, individualism. In science there was common information; in politics, reserve. Teamwork dominated in science; in politics, isolated effort, ”said Piñera.

The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised vaccine donations – from rich countries that have access to large quantities – have been delivered. The UN health agency has announced that countries will meet their commitment to split the dose “immediately” by providing syringes for programs that benefit poor countries, especially Africa.

COVAX, the UN-supported program for sending vaccines to all countries, struggled with production problems, supply bottlenecks and an almost strained market position for vaccines by wealthy nations.

WHO has asked vaccine-making companies to prioritize COVAX and publish their delivery schedules. It has also appealed to wealthy countries to avoid widespread adoption of booster vaccinations so that the doses can be made available to health workers and vulnerable people in developing countries. Such calls were largely ignored.

COVAX has missed almost all of its vaccine-sharing goals. Managers have also cut their ambitions to ship vaccines by the end of this year, from an original target of about 2 billion doses worldwide to now 1.4 billion doses. Even this brand could be overlooked.

As of Tuesday, COVAX had shipped more than 296 million cans to 141 countries.

The global target of 70% is ambitious, not least because of the US experience.

Biden had set a goal of vaccinating 70% of the US adult population by July 4th, but continued reluctance to vaccinate helped the nation only achieve that goal a month later. Nearly 64% of the entire US population have received at least one dose and less than 55% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

US officials hope to increase those numbers in the coming months, both by encouraging the use of vaccination regulations and vaccinating children, once regulators clear vaccination for the under-12 population.

Aid agencies have warned that the persistent inequalities could widen the global pandemic, leading to new and more dangerous varieties. The Delta variant, common in the US, has been shown to be more transmissible than the original strain, although the existing vaccines have prevented nearly all serious illnesses and deaths.

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Associated press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Josh Boak at the United Nations and David Biller in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

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