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Wuhan lab leak: “I’m not naive enough to absolutely write this off”

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Australian scientist Danielle Anderson was the only foreign researcher at the Wuhan virology lab. Now, she’s speaking out for the first time.

Australian scientist Danielle Anderson was the only foreigner to undertake research at the notorious Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 lab. She worked at the lab until November 2019, just months before the initial outbreak of Covid.

The Covid pandemic has been rife with conspiracy theories since its emergence. The most popular of these theories is that Chinese scientists manufactured the virus in the lab.

Some theorise it either leaked out by accident, or as an act of biological warfare. China’s lack of transparency over Covid’s origins have only fuelled these rumours.

Virologist Danielle Anderson

“It was just a regular lab”

Anderson says that inaccurate reporting has given the public and false perception of the Wuhan lab.

“It’s not that it was boring, but it was a regular lab that worked in the same way as any other high-containment lab,” Anderson says. “What people are saying is just not how it is.”

Anderson also says she was ‘impressed’ with the institute’s maximum biocontainment lab which has the highest biosafety rating.

There were strict protocols and requirements aimed at containing the pathogens being studied, Anderson says researchers needed to train for 45 hours before being certified to work independently in the lab.

“It’s very, very extensive,” she said.

“The pandemic is something no one could have imagined on this scale,” she said. “The virus was in the right place at the right time and everything lined up to cause this disaster.”

The US and Europe are among countries questioning the lab’s safety.

Anderson said no one she knew at the Wuhan institute was ill toward the end of 2019. Moreover, there is a procedure for reporting symptoms that correspond with the pathogens handled in high-risk containment labs.

“If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick—and I wasn’t,” she said. “I was tested for coronavirus in Singapore before I was vaccinated, and had never had it.”

Last month, 18 scientists writing in the journal Science called for an investigation into Covid-19’s origin amid rumours of the virus leaking from the lab.

Anderson says that while unlikely, it’s not entirely impossible that the virus escaped the facility.

If presented with evidence that such an accident spawned Covid-19, Anderson “could foresee how things could maybe happen,” she said. “I’m not naive enough to say I absolutely write this off.” 

Although she remains firm in her belief that the virus emerged from ‘natural sources’ Anderson does think China should assist with an investigation to nail down Covid’s origin.

She said she’s dumbfounded by the portrayal of the lab by some media outside China, including attacks on scientists who worked at the lab.

Anderson herself has also been the victim of violent threats and misinformation, which led her to filing a police report last year.

Keira is the front-page editor at Ticker NEWS. She's previously worked at Reuters in Jakarta, and ABC in Australia. She has a Bachelor of Journalism, specialising in international politics. Keira is particularly interested in writing about politics, technology and human rights.

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World

We’re in a global food crisis… and it’s worse than the COVID-19 pandemic

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Food prices around the world have hit a 10-year high during the pandemic – with the biggest rises affecting some of the poorest countries

According to a new world vision report, soaring food prices combined with lockdown-induced job losses and disrupted nutrition services has fuelled a global hunger crisis

World Vision Australia CEO Daniel Wordsworth joined ticker to share more on World Vision’s Price Shocks report.

Thought the cost of groceries in Australia had climbed during COVID?

Well, we Australia is still the ‘lucky country’, compared to places like Syria, east Africa or Myanmar, where the cost of food has soared by more than 50 per cent since the pandemic began.

That’s the finding of a new World Vision report which has found food prices have not only hit a 10-year high during COVID, but that the biggest rises are hitting the world’s poorest the hardest.

World Vision’s Price Shocks report compared the cost of a basket of 10 staple items in 31 countries and found Australians would have to work an average of one hour to pay for the 10 items, while people in Syria would have to work three days and in South Sudan eight days.

“In many countries around the world where well, visions working, you already have environments that are very fragile. So they’re already struggling, maybe with conflict, maybe with large scale people movement in a place like Lebanon, for example,” Daniel told ticker NEWS.

He said when you put on top of that COVID, it’s plunged the World Food System in a kind of crisis, you have less food being made, because there are less workers and less ability to get into those spaces, the movement of that food into marketplaces are restricted because of COVID, the ability to process it, then the ability to take it into micro places and sell it, all of this has been threatened by COVID.

“You have 3 billion people going to bed at night without enough food.”

Price Shocks found between February 2020 and July 2021, while Australian food prices rose by just 3.5 per cent, prices increased in Myanmar by 54 per cent, Lebanon 48 per cent, Mozambique 38.3 per cent, Vanuatu 30.9 per cent, Syria 29.2 per cent and Timor-Leste 17.7 per cent – affecting mainly people who could least afford it.

Daniel said the report confirmed the aftershocks of COVID-19 had the potential to exact a greater toll on the world than the virus itself.

“Job losses and lower incomes from the pandemic are forcing millions of families to skip meals, go for cheaper, less nutritious food, or go without food altogether,” Daniel said.

The report also cites a recent study which estimated by the end of 2022, the nutrition crisis caused by COVID-19 could result in 283,000 more deaths of children aged under five, 13.6 million more children suffering from wasting or acute malnutrition and 2.6 million more children suffering from stunting. This would equate to 250 children dying each day from pandemic-related malnutrition.

“As always, children suffer the most – they are the most vulnerable to hunger because they have a greater need for nutrients, they become undernourished faster than adults and are at a much higher risk of dying from starvation,” Daniel said.

Daniel said World Vision had been responding to the hunger crisis, reaching 12 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in 29 countries with food and nutrition in 2020 alone.

And he was confident Australians would step up to help organisations like World Vision provide emergency food and cash assistance to those in need. World Vision has also urged the Australian Government to commit $AU150 million famine-prevention package to avert a worsening of the crisis.

“Generosity in the face of need is in our DNA, so I am certain Australians will respond – the same way we responded to the Boxing Day tsunami, the Ethiopia famine and the Beirut port explosion.”

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Business

Trade war fires up as U.S companies pass tariffs onto consumers

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Japan Exports

The trade war between the United States and China is continuing to heat up, but this hasn’t stopped American businesses from leaving the Chinese mainland

This all follows the US implementing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese consumer products in a bid to bring manufacturing back to American shores.

A new report has found this is hurting the US economy and has not been successful in pressuring China to change any of its economic policies.

Meanwhile, businesses based in either China and America have remained “deeply integrated” with the other… with foreign investment into China hitting a record high of US$144.4 billion in 2020.

This comes as Joe Biden moves to review US policy towards China, including the previous policies of Donald Trump.

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Sport

Team USA to require vaccination for 2022 Winter Olympians

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Staff and athletes will be required to be fully vaccinated before the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a policy announced by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced the policy on Wednesday.

The USOPC won’t consider unvaccinated athletes for the Beijing games, who will need to provide proof of vaccination by December 1st. The Winter Olympics will begin on the 4th of February next year.

The Associated Press obtained the letter CEO Sarah Hirshland sent to athletes and staff detailing the decision to implement the policy for future Olympic and Paralympic Games, starting with the 2022 Tokyo Winter Olympic Games.

“Effective Nov. 1, 2021, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee will require all USOPC staff, athletes and those utilizing USOPC facilities – including the training centers – to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Hirshland wrote.

“This requirement will also apply to our full Team USA delegation at future Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Athletes will be given the opportunity to apply for an exemption, and Hirshland hopes most COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in time for the Games.

“The stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over,” Hirshland wrote.

“This step will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparation and service to athletes.”

The USOPC also revealed data on vaccination rates at the Tokyo Olympics via their website, with 83% of Team USA, and 86% of international athletes at the Olympic Village being fully vaccinated.

Athletes previously weren’t required to be vaccinated by the International Olympic Committee to attend the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, although they encouraged athletes to get vaccinated.

-by Parker McKenzie

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