Delta Dominant in U.S.; Pandemic Linked to Animals: Virus Update

The delta variant is set to become the dominant Covid strain in the U.S., boosting concerns it could lead to a surge in cases in under-vaccinated hot spots. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, urged caution on reopenings worldwide with most regions seeing rising case counts.

Moderna Inc. announced it has begun human trials of a messenger RNA-based influenza vaccine, potentially paving the way for a combination shot for adults that could stave off flu, Covid variants and a third common respiratory virus.

A study by top international scientists concludes that animal contagion is the most likely explanation for the pandemic’s genesis. In France, a government spokesman warned the Delta variant’s growth could spur a “quick fourth wave,” while Japan is planning to declare a fresh state of emergency for Tokyo that would cover the entirety of the Olympics.

Animal Contagion Spurred Virus, Study Finds (4:22 p.m. NY)

Early Covid-19 cases traced to markets in Wuhan, China, mirror the initial spread of SARS 17 years earlier, scientists said in a paper that concludes that animal contagion is the most likely explanation for the pandemic’s genesis.

The epidemiological history of SARS-CoV-2 is comparable to previous animal market-associated outbreaks of coronaviruses and offers a simple route for human exposure, Edward Holmes, Andrew Rambaut and 19 other researchers said Wednesday in a review of the scientific evidence pertaining to the pandemic’s origins.

The paper was released on Zonodo Wednesday ahead of peer-review. Debate about Covid’s emergence has coalesced around two ideas: a “laboratory escape” scenario and a spillover from animals. The lab accident theory “cannot be entirely dismissed,” but it’s very unlikely, the study authors said.

South Africa Excess Deaths Rise (4:05 p.m. NY)

Excess deaths in South Africa, seen by health officials there as a more precise measure of fatalities from Covid 19, rose to their highest level since January as the delta variant spread to the country’s nine provinces.

In the week ended June 27, the country recorded 5,228 excess deaths compared with 1,729 official deaths from the virus, according to a report by the South African Medical Research Council on Wednesday.

The number of deaths, which is measured against a historical average, was the highest since the week ending Jan. 24. It compared with 4,145 a week earlier.

NY to Close Javits Vaccination Site (3:49 p.m. NY)

Governor Andrew Cuomo said New York state will cease operations at three mass vaccination sites, including New York City’s Javits Center, on July 9.

The change reflects the state’s plan to focus resources in areas where the vaccination rate is lower than the statewide average through collaboration with local communities.

The state has fully vaccinated 54.7% of its population, with 72.7% of adults having had at least one shot.

WHO Urges Cautious Reopenings (11:05 a.m. NY)

The World Health Organization urged caution as most regions around the world have seen increasing cases over the last week.

More than two dozen countries have epidemic curves that are almost vertical right now, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead officer on Covid-19.

“The idea that everyone is protected and it’s kumbaya and everything goes back to normal is a very dangerous assumption right now anywhere in the world, and still is in the European environment,” Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said in a Wednesday briefing.

“I would ask governments to be really careful at this moment not to lose the gains we’ve made, to open up very carefully,” Ryan said.

Moderna Starts MRNA Flu Vaccine Trials (10 a.m. NY)

Moderna Inc. has begun human trials of an messenger RNA-based seasonal flu vaccine, in a move that could pave the way for a combination shot for adults that could stave off flu, Covid variants and a third common respiratory virus.

In a statement, the company said it had begun a combined phase 1 and 2 trial of an mRNA-based vaccine against four influenza strains in roughly 180 adults ages 18 and up. The study will evaluate safety and the immune response, according to the statement.

The hope is that the speed and adaptability of mRNA technology will improve efficacy of existing flu vaccines based on older technologies. Existing seasonal flu shots are typically 40% to 60% effective.

“Our vision is to develop an mRNA combination vaccine so that people can get one shot each fall for high efficacy protection against the most problematic respiratory viruses,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer, in the statement.

Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE are also working on mRNA vaccines for seasonal influenza, though they haven’t yet launched clinical studies.

Delta Makes Up Half of New U.S. Cases (9:34 a.m. NY)

The delta variant first seen in India is set to become the predominant Covid strain in the U.S., boosting concerns it could lead to a surge in cases in under-vaccinated hot spots.

The highly transmissible variant made up 30% of positive samples sequenced in the U.S. for the two-week period ending June 19. The variant is predicted to increase to 52% in the two weeks ending July 3, according to Jade Fulce, a spokesperson at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In June, the agency classified the B.1.617.2 strain as a variant of concern. The proportions of the variant across the U.S. vary, ranging from 30% in the Pacific Northwest to greater than 80% in the Midwestern region of the country.

Lions Rugby Tour Jeopardized (8:44 a.m. NY)

The British & Irish Lions rugby team’s tour of South Africa is under threat from a raft of infections that’s led to the cancellation of two supporting games.

The Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team and the reigning world champions, have canceled a match against Georgia scheduled for July 9, the national association SA Rugby said on Wednesday. Twelve members of the squad and its management tested positive for the coronavirus as did four members of the Georgia squad.

France Sees Risk of Fourth Wave (7:38 a.m. NY)

The progression of the delta variant in France could translate into a “quick fourth wave,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters Wednesday.

“Wherever the variant is present it could spoil the summer,” Attal said. The more transmissible variant first found in India now accounts for about 40% of new cases in France.

State of Emergency for Tokyo Olympics (6:49 a.m. NY)

Japan is planning to declare a new state of emergency in Tokyo throughout the Olympics as virus cases increase, NHK reported, raising the possibility that most of the events will be held without spectators.

A state of emergency is unlikely to trigger the cancellation of the Olympics, set to start on July 23, with officials from the organizing committee having said previously they’re prepared to hold events without spectators if the Japanese government puts emergency measures in place during the Games.

Delta Dominant in U.S.; Pandemic Linked to Animals: Virus Update

Vietnam Tightens Rules in Ho Chi Minh City (6:28 a.m. NY)

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh ordered officials in Ho Chi Minh City to impose the “strictest” limits on movement to stop Covid’s spread, according to a post on the government’s website.

With an outbreak that began in late April spreading to a number of provinces around Vietnam’s main commercial center, Ho Chi Minh City’s municipal government must make sure that no big gatherings take place and people obey social-distancing rules, the post said.

Officials were ordered to check anti-virus measures at industrial parks in the city and suspend operations of those don’t meet the government’s safety requirements, according to the post.

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