Georgians go to polls for crucial Senate runoff – National & International News – TUE 5Jan2021

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Georgians go to polls for crucial Senate runoff. WHO probe into COVID origins begins under China’s watchful eye. Expert warns South African COVID strain might be resistant to vaccine. That and more below…

NATIONAL NEWS

Georgians go to polls for crucial Senate runoff

Today’s Senate runoff in Georgia pits Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The outcome of this race will determine which of the parties control the US Senate until 2022. Going into the races, polls suggest the Republican and Democratic candidates are neck-and-neck. Roughly 3 million voters have already voted by mail, and pollsters are expecting a record turnout.

Both President Trump and President-elect Biden spent the last several days in the state stumping for their respective sides. Trump’s speeches have largely centered on his assertions that the November election was stolen from him. Meanwhile, Biden has been beating Senate Republicans over the head for their refusal to approve $2000 stimulus checks. Biden’s message is that a vote for Ossof and Warnock is a vote for more government help for Americans during the pandemic.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (the recipient of a now infamous weekend phone call from President Trump) warns that the results of today’s race may not be announced for some days. In addition to the 3 million Georgians who have already voted by mail, many more are expected to mail in ballots today. This will likely lead to delays in tabulating the votes as happened in November. That will of course delay announcement of winners if the vote is as close as pollsters predict.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).

 

Texas Rep. tests positive for COVID after receiving 1st vaccine dose

Rep. Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas, has tested positive for the coronavirus after having received her first dose of the vaccine sometime in December. Granger, 77, is now the 49th member of Congress to contract the virus. She was to receive her second dose later this week. Granger had apparently been tested before mingling with colleagues on the House floor for the start of the 117th Congress on Sunday. She only found out later about her results and is now in quarantine. We’ll have to wait and see how many other members of Congress come down with the virus after the event.

Granger’s representatives say that although the first vaccine dose does not appear to have prevented her contracting the virus, it appears to have had some effect. For the time being, Granger is asymptomatic and feeling well.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

WHO investigation into COVID origins begins under China’s watchful eye

An international team of researchers is due to visit China to conduct a weeks-long investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in the country. However, growing international tensions and China’s recent history of suppressing even its own scientists suggest that Beijing will have a strong hand in shaping the outcome of this investigation. Chinese media is now doubling down on fringe theories suggesting the virus originated outside of China. These theories range from the unlikely the preposterous. For example, some are suggesting that the virus came to China via frozen food from Europe. International scientist have roundly rejected this as a plausible theory. 

Another theory that has raised international curiosity is the possibility that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan. Although this theory was originally proposed by two Chinese scientists, Beijing has so far permitted no investigation to either prove or disprove it. It also appears unlikely the WHO team will succeed in accessing the lab’s samples.

Chinese teams have fared no better

Over the last year, the Chinese government has given grant after grant to domestic virologists and researchers working to identify the origins of COVID-19. These include scientists investigating bat populations in caves in Southern China where the closest relative of the virus has been identified. In 2012, 6 men working in one of the caves came down with a mysterious illness, of which three of them died. Experts believe samples from this outbreak made their way to the Wuhan lab. In 2020, scientists investigating these caves had their research abruptly halted or their publications suppressed. Unfortunately, we may never know what, if anything, they uncovered.

The government’s focus has now instead shifted to research whose outcomes seem calculated to cause Beijing the least embarrassment. Meanwhile, the government continues to thwart curiosity from both the press and the scientific community about the caves and other likely sources. This policy of suppression appears to be a top-down campaign, originating with Xi Jinping and his cabinet.

For the WHO story, click here (opens in new tab).

For the story about suppression of Chinese investigations, click here (opens in new tab).

 

Expert warns South African COVID strain might be resistant to vaccine

British scientist Sir John Bell of the University of Oxford warns that a COVID strain from South Africa may have mutated to the point where current vaccines will be less effective in protecting recipients. Bell says his “gut” feeling is that the vaccine will protect against the UK strain, which has alarmed governments the world over. However, speaking of the vaccine’s effectiveness, Bell says, “I don’t know about the South African strain – I think that’s a big question mark”. Nevertheless, Bell urged calm, saying scientists could produce a new vaccine protect against the South African strain in a matter of weeks, if necessary.

Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, echoes Bell’s concerns, saying that he is “incredibly worried” about the South African variant and that it poses a “very, very significant problem”. Hancock explains that the mutations in the South African strain affect the proteins that allow antibodies to attach themselves to repel the virus. However, Hancock is optimistic that current vaccines will still have a “residual effect” against the South African strain.

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