Coronavirus: Chinese researchers find batch of new coronaviruses in bats


Chinese researchers said Thursday they had found a batch of new coronaviruses in bats including one that may be the second-closest yet, genetically, to the COVID-19 virus.

According to the researchers, their discoveries in a single, small region of Yunnan province, southwestern China show just how many coronaviruses there are in bats and how many have the potential to spread to people.

Weifeng Shi of the University of Shandong and colleagues collected samples from small, forest-dwelling bats between May, 2019 and November, 2020. They tested urine and feces as well as taking swabs from the bats’ mouths.

“In total, we assembled 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses,” the researchers wrote in a report published in the journal Cell.

One was very similar, genetically to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that’s causing the current pandemic, they said — a viral sample called RpYN06 taken from a horseshoe bat species called Rhinolophus pusillus.

It would be the closest strain to SARS-CoV-2 except for genetic differences on the spike protein, the knob-like structure that the virus uses when attaching to cells, they said.

“Together with the SARS-CoV-2 related virus collected from Thailand in June 2020, these results clearly demonstrate that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations, and in some regions might occur at a relatively high frequency,” they wrote.

Researchers are trying to find where SARS-CoV-2 came from. Although a bat is a likely source, it’s possible the virus infected an intermediary animal. The SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2002-2004 was tracked to an animal called a civet cat.

“Bats are well known reservoir hosts for a variety of viruses that cause severe diseases in humans and have been associated with the spillovers of Hendra virus, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and, most notably, coronaviruses. Aside from bats and humans, coronaviruses can infect a wide range of domestic and wild animals, including pigs, cattle, mice, cats, dogs, chickens, deer and hedgehogs,” they wrote.

Most of the samples came from species of horseshoe bats. In 2017, researchers sampling a cave in Yunnan found viruses very close genetically to the SARS virus in horseshoe bats.

Three of the samples described in Thursday’s report were also close to SARS genetically.

“Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses at the local scale, including close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,” they wrote. The bat species they sampled are common across Southeast Asia, including southwest China, Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere.

Although there’s some controversy about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organization report said the most likely source is an animal — probably a bat.

People hunt and eat bats, and bats can infect other animals that are also hunted and eaten by people. Viruses can infect people when they handle or slaughter the animals.



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Leaked WHO report says COVID likely passed from bats to humans through another animal


The researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood for the emergence of the virus named SARS-CoV-2

BEIJING: A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press.

The findings were largely as expected and left many questions unanswered, but the report provided in-depth detail on the reasoning behind the team’s conclusions. The researchers proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.

 

The report’s release has been repeatedly delayed, raising questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China. A World Health Organization official said late last week that he expected it would be ready for release “in the next few days.”

The AP received what appeared to be a near-final version on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country. It wasn’t clear whether the report might still be changed prior to its release. The diplomat did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to release it ahead of publication.

The researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood for the emergence of the virus named SARS-CoV-2. Topping the list was transmission through a second animal, which they said was likely to very likely. They evaluated direct spread from bats to humans as likely, and said that spread through “cold-chain” food products was possible but not likely.

 

The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronaviruses. However, the report says that “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link.”

It said highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID virus, which suggests they could be carriers.

The report is based largely on a visit by a WHO team of international experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected, from mid-January to mid-February.

Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who led the Wuhan mission, said Friday that the report had been finalized and was being fact-checked and translated.

 

“I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly,” he said.

The draft report is inconclusive on whether the outbreak started at a Wuhan seafood market that had one of the earliest clusters of cases in December 2019.

The discovery of other cases before the Huanan market outbreak suggests it may have started elsewhere. But the report notes there could have been milder cases that went undetected and that could be a link between the market and earlier cases.

“No firm conclusion therefore about the role of the Huanan market in the origin of the outbreak, or how the infection was introduced into the market, can currently be drawn,” the report says.

 

As the pandemic spread globally, China found samples of the virus on the packaging of frozen food coming into the country and, in some cases, have tracked localized outbreaks to them.

The report said that the cold chain, as it is known, can be a driver of long-distance virus spread but was skeptical it could have triggered the outbreak. The report says the risk is lower than through human-to-human respiratory infection, and most experts agree.

“While there is some evidence for possible reintroduction of SARS-CoV-2 through handling of imported contaminated frozen products in China since the initial pandemic wave, this would be extraordinary in 2019 where the virus was not widely circulating,” the study said.

 

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Bendigo park’s rainforest canopy cooling system saves bats during heatwave


As Australia baked through one of its worst summers on record last year, more than 200 endangered grey-headed flying foxes died during the January 2020 heatwave in Bendigo’s Rosalind Park.

“It was traumatic and certainly a wake-up call,” City of Greater Bendigo’s heritage gardens coordinator Orrin Hogan said.

Mr Hogan decided to find a way to make sure a similar mass tragedy did not occur again this year.

WWF-Australia’s threatened species and climate adaptation ecologist, Dr Kita Ashman (right), has helped to trial the cooling system in Rosalind Park.(

Supplied: WWF-Australia

)

Dependent on the time of year, up to 30,000 bats can live in the park and when the temperature is above 40 degrees, they experience extreme heat stress.

It led Mr Hogan to trial an atmospheric cooling system for the flying foxes over the past summer — boosted by funding from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia and the Victorian Government.

WWF-Australia’s threatened species and climate adaptation ecologist, Dr Kita Ashman, said the initiative had been a success.

a man standing with an ipad looking up at rainforest trees
Orrin Hogan says the cooling system is turned on for only a few minutes each hour when the temperature hits 40 degrees.(

Supplied: WWF-Australia

)

Data showed temperatures in the test zone dropped by up to 2 degrees and — most importantly for the researchers — no flying fox deaths were recorded.

Dr Ashman said the bats seemed to enjoy the misty experience.

“They seemed to be enjoying the shower and cool down. They’re enjoying it more, the more they are acclimatising to it.

“We’re also trying to keep the trees and ferns in their area healthy.”

bats flying over an evening sky
Dependent on the time of year, up to 30,000 bats can live in Bendigo’s Rosalind Park.(

Supplied: WWF-Australia

)

The flying foxes — Australia’s largest native bats — have been a point of controversy in Bendigo for many years due to the noise they make and the damage they do to trees.

But Dr Ashman said flying foxes were an important species.

“Australia has a love-hate relationship with flying foxes, but without them many of our forests and woodlands would not be the same,” she said.

The trial will continue until the end of summer next year.

Mr Hogan said he hoped the council would be able to secure funding for the system to become a permanent feature.

“Hopefully there will be opportunities for other councils to build on what we’ve learnt and help to save other endangered species,” he said.

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Growing colony of fruit bats causing more power outages in Adelaide


A growing colony of grey-headed flying foxes are causing increasing numbers of power outages in Adelaide.

The number of flying foxes has declined in recent years amid searing heatwaves, but SA Power Networks spokesman Paul Roberts said numbers have rebounded to about 20,000.

Mr Robert said the animals had caused about 25 power outages in the northern and eastern suburbs in recent weeks.

“It looks like some of the bats are following the Torrens River valley, so to speak, and we’ve had about 25 hour or two-hour long outages,” Mr Roberts said.

He said in the latest outage, nearly 2,000 homes at Klemzig were without power after one became entangled in powerlines.

“We’ve also had a number of momentary outages where the lights flicker, because of bats flying into lines, or getting hooked up across lines or hitting other infrastructure and sadly either getting badly injured or electrocuted,” he said.

“We’re trying to deal with the issue but there’s no real magic solution because these bats have a very random pattern of foraging across the metropolitan area to look for their food.”

Fauna Rescue SA volunteers help SA Power Networks care for the animals when they get injured by powerlines.(ABC News: Brittany Evins)

He said that bats had a unique physiology which puts them at greater risk than birds on powerlines.

“These bats have a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres — the typical spacing between our powerlines are either half a metre or a metre.

He said animal guards were installed when there was evidence of repeat outages caused by the bats in certain locations.

The removal of older surge arresters which can ensnare bat wings was also an ongoing project.

“We have millions of them out there on the network and it will take years to replace those,” he said.

SA Power Networks has been in discussions with Adelaide University researchers and the Department for Environment and Water about a permanent solution.

Mr Roberts said that was still a long way off, with no schemes known to fix the issue.

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Koalas, snakes, bats will benefit from wildlife hospital


A 2 ha site within the Ballina Shire has been identified as the best location for a future wildlife hospital.

Chairperson of Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital Inc, Ninian Gemmel, said the not-for-profit

has been busy trying to find a suitable site for the precinct within the Department of Primary Industries precinct in Wollongbar.

“In the last six months, we have found a site in Wollongbar and we have signed a memorandum of understanding (with DPI),” he said.

“It allows us to go ahead and make investigations and see what we need to do to modify the land, before any building modification works take place.

“The precinct will treat not just the furry koalas, but also reptiles, birds, frogs, bats and any sort of wildlife.”

Mr Gemmel said the registered charity’s directors are all volunteer roles.

“Whatever money we can bring in via donations or third-party funding goes directly to the project,” he said.

 

An Australasia Gannet with Ballina Sea Bird and Turtle rescuer Lance Ferris. Photo by Kevin Bull

“We are being advised by a number of very well-qualified vets in terms of what the site and the building should look like”.

The chairperson said – in the long term – the precinct is planned to do more than treat animals.

“We are a community-based organisation, and the intention is to build a world-class, brick-and-mortars (resource) for treatment of injured or orphan wildlife, but we also want to do some research, and we want to provide an educational facility for school kids and other groups to learn about wildlife and natural habitat,” he said.

“The board is currently trying to work out exactly when we might be operational.

“We would like to think that we may be in operation within 12 months, but when would we have educational and research facilities, that would be three years or maybe a bit longer.”

Winona the Green Sea Turtle, released by Australian Seabird Rescue in Ballina in 2018.

Winona the Green Sea Turtle, released by Australian Seabird Rescue in Ballina in 2018.

Mr Gemmel said anyone looking to become a member of donate funds can contact the organisation.

“We are redeveloping our website, but we are always open to new members joining, anyone can join in or make a tax-deductible donation by contacting Elly on info@nrwh.org.au,” he said.



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Australia vs India: Pant bats, Saha keeps, but Stuart Clark doesn’t see a problem with it



The substitute rule appears to have benefitted India in the third Test, with the tourists getting the best of both worlds: Rishahbh Pant’s explosive batting and Wriddhiman Saha’s superior wicket-keeping.

Pant was hit on the elbow while batting in the first innings, and when India fielded was replaced by sub keeper Saha — who performed flawlessly and took four catches.

In the past, substitute fielders were not able to keep wicket, but that rule was changed in 2017, meaning Saha could take the gloves.

In India’s second innings, Pant (97) was once again fit enough to bat and lead a stirring fightback from India to remain unbeaten on 73 at the lunch break, with some raising concerns that India were taking advantage of the rule.

But ABC Sport commentator Stuart Clark said India were within their rights to use both players.

“He received an external blow. These are always very difficult for a match referee to objectively police,” he said.

“The rule allows him to not field. He sat off, recuperated, got his arm better and now he’s giving us a fine display with the bat.”

Concussion rule open to misuse: Clark

Clark said he was more concerned about the concussion substitute rule being misused.

Since 2019, the ICC has allowed concussed players to be replaced by a like-for-like substitute, who can bat, field and bowl.

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Clark isn’t a fan of the rule.

“If you’re concussed you need to go off. I think it’s ludicrous that it’s different if you have a hamstring tear,” he said.

“I agree that if you’ve got any signs of concussion, you need to be removed. And you need to be protected from yourself. But if the doctor deems you have concussion, you are removed from the field.

“However, you shouldn’t be given a free substitute. I want to protect the players as much as anyone. If the doc makes a decision and the player has to come off the field, that’s it. It will change batting techniques, people will need to learn to face short bowling.

But Clark also mused about a sliding doors moment in Australian cricket; when Marnus Labuschagne was introduced as a concussion sub for Steve Smith in the 2019 Ashes.

“That said, if it wasn’t for the concussion rule we would have never found Marnus Labuschagne,” he laughed.

Listen to ABC Sport’s live coverage of the third Test from the SCG.

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Australian batting woes, New Zealand, Kiwi’s sledge, bats for sale, Number one


A fan at the Test match between New Zealand and Pakistan has delivered a brutal sledge across the Tasman that hits just a little too close to home.

But it also shows the Kiwis are getting just a little bit cocky as the side is set to overtake Australia for the world No. 1 team on the Test rankings.

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New Zealand appear destined to put the hurt on Pakistan after stumps on day 2 of the Test match with Kane Williamson — the recently crowned number one Test batsman in the world — hitting another century to finish not out on 112 with Henry Nicholls adding 89.

Just three wickets down, New Zealand are just 11 runs short of Pakistan’s first innings score of 297 at 3/286.

But cameras found a supporter that may have been getting too far ahead of themselves.

With a smug smirk, the supporter held a sign reading “Cricket bats for sale. Barely used. Call: S. Smith, J. Burns @ Cricket Australia.

New Zealand appear set to claim the world’s number one Test team ranking and are provisionally ahead of Australia at the moment. The ICC only officially update the rankings at the end of a series.

A win for Australia in Sydney would return the Aussies to the top of the provisional rankings while India can snatch the World No. 1 with a 3-1 win. A drawn series between Australia and India would mean New Zealand stay on top of the rankings.

Kiwi fans have a bit of a short memory as Australia hasn’t lost to New Zealand in a Test match on either side of the Tasman since 2011, the only time in the past 27 years in Test matches, including a 3-0 drubbing in the series between the teams last year in Australia.

Steve Smith only averaged 42.8 in that series.

And Smith was also named the Test player of the decade just last week after scoring more than 7000 runs at an average of more than 65, the best since Bradman.

But the fan may have a point.

It was revealed that Australia’s current dire batting performances are the sides worst in 133-years with scores of just 191, 194 and 200 in completed innings’ against India.

AAP reporter Scott Bailey revealed the team’s average runs per wicket this season (21.50) is the lowest in any home summer since way back in 1887/88.

It also saw Burns dropped after a horror run of outs saw him under fire.

Smith is averaging just 3.33 having scored just 10 runs and he dropped down to third in the Test batting rankings behind Williamson and India’s Virat Kohli.

Williamson hit 251 against the West Indies and 129 in the first Test against Pakistan, as well as the 112 not out in the second Test to take the number one ranking.

Australia have been talking up how Smith can get out of his funk with all the Aussie batsmen looking to bounce back.

“It’s more about the method now,” assistant coach Andrew McDonald said.

“He’s working hard. He’s clearly hitting the ball well.

“Technically (both Smith and Marnus Labuschagne) are ready to go.

“It’s about how they are going to score their runs and how they’re going to combat these tactics from Indian bowlers and captains.

“There’s a challenge there for Steve to rebound, the world’s best players usually rebound and I think he’s in a really good space to perform come Sydney.”

Australia and New Zealand are set to play a five-match T20 series in late February and early March.



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Erica McAlpine: ‘Bats and Swallows’


Whatever the difference might be

to one who knows,

we couldn’t see

from where we stood in soft shadows

any signs that they were swallows

or bats. That there were wings

was without doubt;

you could see small pointed things

swooping out

into the gloaming—

and sometimes back.

One seemed almost iridescent

as I tried to track

its crescent

flight across the hill. The lack

of sound suggested

bats to me;

you strained to see if they nested

somewhere below the

terrace, having rested

your case on swallows.

We couldn’t be sure

either way—and so it follows

that neither of us knows.

But since it is in your nature

always to side one way

or the other, you hold

that they were swallows. I say

the question never gets old,

that either, or both, hold sway.

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China bats for dialogues on sea dispute


A Chinese Coast Guard vessel manoeuvres to block a Philippine government supply ship with members of the media aboard at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea on March 29, 2014. — AFP

China is pushing face-to-face consultations in continuing negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct in time for its target completion in 2021, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said.

Negotiations on the code, which seeks to ease tensions in the disputed water, were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but Mr. Huang said an online meeting was recently held to discuss the code.

“Not long ago, a working level online meeting was held successfully,” he said in an e-am. Under the current situation, China hopes that all parties will work harder to speed up the negotiation in a flexible and pragmatic way,” Mr. Huang said in a Viber group message.

“China has proposed to hold face-to-face consultations in China once conditions permit to push forward the second reading of the CoC.”

The first reading of the single draft negotiating text of the code was completed in July 2019.

Mr. Huang maintained China’s position, rejecting the 2016 Hague ruling that invalidated its historic nine-dash line claims over the South China Sea. But China is willing to participate in dialogues with the Philippines to settle the dispute, he added.

“We should avoid misjudgment caused by unilateral actions that would complicate the situation in the disputed waters,” he added.

He also recommended that a bilateral maritime and air liaison mechanism be established for a more effective and immediate response to maritime emergencies.

China has been building artificial islands in dispute areas of the South China Sea. It has set up two new districts in Paracel and Spratly islands, prompting the Philippine government to file diplomatic protests.

Mr. Huang reiterated its stand that US actions create chaos in the region, adding that it is the “biggest driver of militarization” of the South China Sea. “All regional countries should be vigilant, and prevent the region’s hard-won peace and development from being sabotaged.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan










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