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Friday 10th of December 2021

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29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change
World Of Finance

There is no training – classroom or otherwise.. that can prepare for trading the last third of a move, whether it's the end of a bull market or the end of a bear market. There's typically no logic to it; irrationality reigns supreme, and no class can teach what to do during that brief, volatile reign. Paul Tudor-Jones

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Dark Skies @emergence_zine by Bear Guerra

Through these images, photographer Bear Guerra invites us to reconsider our fear of the dark and to welcome the night sky as a window into mystery and awe.

ONE OF MY EARLIEST childhood memories finds me waking from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, during a family road trip. Far from any city lights, I look out the window toward the sky above, and for the first time, I see what seemed to be an infinitude of stars. 

I’ll never know for sure if I was actually dreaming or not, but I still have the distinct recollection of becoming aware of the immensity of the universe in which we exist. 

I still recall the intense mix of awe, fear, and hope that I felt, unable to look away until the stars faded with the first light of day.
I often think back to that night and the deep connection I felt to the natural world. 

But in recent years, the memory has also taken on a metaphorical connotation, reminiscent of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words of hope, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” 

Today it is not uncommon to read or hear or believe that we are living in “dark times”—such is the state of the world, and our need for hope in the face of many challenges: climate change, inequality, isolation, pandemic, to name only a few.
I, too, have spent most of my life thinking of darkness as a problem demanding more light—in both the literal and the symbolic sense. But perhaps this fear of the dark has been part of our collective problem.
For all practical purposes, most of us now live in the perpetual glow of a world that never sleeps. 

As essayist and poet Mark Tredinnick has said, “Cities are factories for unmaking the night.” 

We are driven by commerce, for which darkness is just another inconvenient obstacle in the path of production and consumption; we rely on the latest technology to offer the facade of a connection to one another. But more light is not what we need; it’s more darkness.
Given the myriad ways in which we humans have all but severed our connection to the natural world, perhaps none will prove to be as profound as the loss of the night sky and of our connection to the dark.
In this personal photographic meditation, this loss of our connection to darkness and to the night sky is emblematic of our deeper separation from the natural world. 

I hope to encourage viewers to question our blind acceptance of a world bathed in artificial light; to not fear the night but to reconnect with it, to be awed by it, to know that if we are patient, we will be able to see through the darkness. 

The images in this series are evidence of an intimate personal journey, as I contemplate our light-polluted world and seek to reconnect with the night; as I ponder how the technology to which we are now tethered is affecting me and those closest to me; as I wonder how I can guide my own child to embrace the night and understand that without darkness we are not just incomplete … we fail to dream.
I think back again on the voice of Martin Luther King Jr., the famous dream maker, who saw stars through the darkness. 

These do often feel like proverbial “dark” times to me. When I began this project several months ago, the world felt like a different place. 

Today I write from the constraints of my home, where, like hundreds of millions of others around the world, I am separated from my community, trying to do my part to slow the spread of a deadly contagion. 

I am fortunate to be with my family, but I feel for those who are alone. We need one another, and we all long for a return to the “normal” of only a few weeks ago.
Still, I remind myself that the “normal” of only a few weeks ago is not the way things ought to be. 

This photo essay was conceived as a meditation on our profound distancing from the natural world—of which we are all just one small part. 

What we are currently experiencing during the pandemic is yet another manifestation of this loss. 

And although the city streets where I made many of these photographs are now empty, I hope that these images will still help us to consider how we might reconnect—with the night, with the natural world, with each other, with ourselves.

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So Russian President Vladimir Putin, by himself, and United States President Joe Biden, surrounded by aides, finally had their secret video link conference for two hours and two minutes @asiatimesonline
Law & Politics

The White House: Biden made it “clear” to Putin that the US and allies will respond with “decisive economic and other measures” to a military escalation in Ukraine. 

At the same time, Biden called on Putin to de-escalate around Ukraine and “return to diplomacy.”
Kremlin: Putin offered Biden to nullify all restrictions on the functioning of diplomatic missions. He remarked that cooperation between Russia and the US is still in an “unsatisfactory” state.
He urged the US not to shift “responsibility on the shoulders of Russia” for the escalation of the situation around Ukraine.
The White House: The US will expand military aid to Ukraine if Russia takes steps against it.
Kremlin: Putin told Biden that Russia is interested in obtaining legally fixed guarantees excluding NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive strike systems in Russia’s neighboring countries.
The White House: Biden did not give Putin any commitments that Ukraine will remain outside NATO.
Minsk or bust
Now for what really matters: the red line.
What Putin diplomatically told Team Biden, sitting at their table, is that Russia’s red line – no Ukraine in NATO – is unmovable. The same applies to Ukraine turned into a hub of the Pentagon’s empire of bases and hosting NATO weaponry.  
Washington may deny it ad infinitum, but Ukraine is part of Russia’s sphere of influence. 

If nothing is done to force Kiev to abide by the Minsk Agreement, Russia will “neutralize” the threat on its own terms.
The root cause of all this drama, absent from any NATO narrative, is straightforward: Kiev simply refuses to respect the February 2015 Minsk Agreement.
According to the deal, Kiev should grant autonomy to Donbass via a constitutional amendment, referred to as “special status”; issue a general amnesty; and start a dialogue with the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Over the years, Kiev fulfilled less than zero of these commitments – while the NATO media machine kept spinning that Russia was violating Minsk. Russia is not even mentioned (italics mine) in the agreement.  
Moscow always respected the Minsk Agreement, which establishes Donbass as an integral, autonomous part of Ukraine. 

Russia has made it very clear, over and over again, it has no interest whatsoever in promoting regime change in Kiev.
Before the video link, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov remarked: “Putin will listen to Biden’s proposals on Ukraine ‘with great interest.'” Even the White House did not propose for Kiev to obey the Minsk Agreement. So regardless of what Biden may have said, Putin, pragmatically, will adopt a “wait and see” approach, and then act accordingly.
In the run-up to the video link, maximum hype revolved on Washington seeking to stop Nord Stream 2 if Russia “invades” Ukraine.
What never transpires out of the “invasion” narrative, repeated ad nauseam across NATO, is that hawks overseeing an immensely polarized US, corroded from the inside, desperately need a war in what military analyst Andrei Martyanov calls “country 404,” a play on the error message when an online page or link doesn’t exist.
The crux of the matter is that European vassals must not have access to Russian energy: only American LNG.
And that’s what led the most extreme Russophobes in Washington to start threatening sanctions on Putin’s inner circle, Russian energy producers and even disconnecting Russia from SWIFT. All that was supposed to prevent Russia from “invading” Country 404.
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken – present at the video link – said a few days ago in Riga, Latvia, that “if Russia invades Ukraine,” NATO will respond “with a range of high impact economic measures.” 

As for NATO, it’s far from aggressive: just a “defensive” organization.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in early December at the OCSE Ministerial Council meeting in Stockholm, was already warning that “strategic stability” in Europe was “rapidly eroding.”  
Lavrov said: “NATO refuses to consider our proposals on de-escalation of tensions and prevention of dangerous incidents … On the contrary, the alliance’s military infrastructure is moving closer to Russia’s borders … The nightmarish scenario of military confrontation is returning.”
So no wonder the heart of the matter for Moscow is NATO encroachment. The “invasion” narrative is crass fake news sold as fact. 

Even the CIA’s William Burns admitted that US intel had no intel to “conclude” that Russia will dutifully answer the War Inc prayers and finally “invade” Ukraine.
Still, that did not prevent a German sensationalist rag from presenting the full contours of the Russian blitzkrieg, when the actual story is the US and NATO attempting to push “country 404” to commit suicide by attacking the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
That legally binding guarantee
It’s idle to expect the video link to produce practical results. As NATO remains mired in concentric crises, the current level of high tension between NATO and Russia is a gift from heaven in terms of maintaining the convenient narrative of an external Slavic evil. It’s also an extra bonus for the military-industrial-intelligence-media think tank complex.
The tension will continue to simmer without becoming incandescent only if NATO does not expand in any shape or form inside Ukraine. 

Diplomats in Brussels routinely comment that Kiev will never be accepted as a NATO member. 

But if things can get worse, they will: Kiev will become one of those NATO special partners, a desperately poor, hungry for territory, rogue actor.  
Putin demanding from the US – which runs NATO – a written, legally binding guarantee that the alliance will not advance further eastward towards Russian borders is the game-changer here.
Team Biden cannot possibly deliver: they would be eaten alive by the War Inc establishment. 

Putin studied his history and knows that Daddy Bush’s “promise” to Gorbachev on NATO expansion was just a lie. He knows those who run NATO will never commit themselves in writing.
So that allows Putin a full range of options to defend Russian national security. “Invasion” is a joke; Ukraine, rotting from the inside, consumed by fear, loathing and poverty, will remain in limbo, while Donetsk and Lugansk will be progressively interconnected with the Russian Federation.
There will be no NATO war on Russia – as Martyanov himself has extensively demonstrated NATO wouldn’t last five minutes against Russian hypersonic weapons. 

And Moscow will be focused on what really matters geoeconomically and geopolitically: solidifying the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and the Greater Eurasia Partnership.    

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We exist in a Tripolar World [US China and Russia] with rapidly emerging Middle Powers.
Law & Politics

I am not discounting Fortress Europe but one senses the Fortress is keener on a more defensive posture unlike the US [notwithstanding its withdrawal from Afghanistan], China and Russia. 

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It's all garbage. If Biden can't stand up to Putin, Iran and China will just see him as a joke. @Kasparov63
Law & Politics

No more State Dept blah-blah about "cooperation" with Putin's mafia dictatorship on Iran or triangulation against China. It's all garbage. If Biden can't stand up to Putin, Iran and China will just see him as a joke.

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Therein lies the rub @Kasparov63 @JoeBiden is in a Pincer with Xi & Vladimir holding the console & ratcheting up the pressure & [and] they own the timing on the Ukraine Taiwan Two Step
Law & Politics

Therein lies the rub  @Kasparov63 @JoeBiden is in a Pincer with Xi & Vladimir holding the console & ratcheting up the pressure & Jaw Jaw and “coercive” sanctions are not going to make a jot of difference to either because they own the timing on the Ukraine Taiwan Two Step

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New Delhi's New Edge in the #China-#India Competition for #MiddleEast Connectivity @Cambridge_Uni @CambridgeMENAF @michaeltanchum
Emerging Markets

China and India’s competition for connectivity with the Middle East during this decade will play a central role in shaping the commercial architecture of the Eurasian landmass and, as a consequence, global geopolitics. 

China has gained a formidable first-mover advantage through the implementation of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a $1 trillion connectivity infrastructure program that seeks to dominate Eurasian trade flows by creating a new architecture of overland and multi-modal commercial connectivity between China and Europe. 

Nonetheless, India – with an economy slated to be the world’s third largest by 2030, a population projected to be the world’s largest by 2027, and two strategic coastlines at the heart of the Indian Ocean – holds the potential to offset, at least partially, China’s Eurasian ambitions. 

To this end, India’s geographic location on the eastern shores of the Arabian Sea provides New Delhi with a critical advantage over Beijing in establishing connectivity with the Middle East.

Having consolidated its control over Afghanistan, the Taliban’s conciliatory posture toward China now offers Beijing the possibility to reach the geographic heartland of the Middle East via Afghanistan and Iran.  

This new overland connectivity to the Middle East could advance Beijing’s strategic objective to entrench the BRI along the southern rim of Eurasia. 

While the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan may favor Beijing, the August 2020 normalisation of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel could tilt the geopolitical gameboard of Middle Eastern connectivity heavily in India’s favour. 

The rapidly developing Emirati-Israeli commercial relationship is giving rise to the creation of a UAE-to-Israel railway network via Saudi Arabia and Jordan with Israel’s Haifa port as its Mediterranean terminal. 

By combining this overland network with the already robust connectivity between India’s western coast and the UAE, India now presides over an emerging Arabian-Mediterranean Corridor to Europe. 

This multi-modal, commercial corridor raises the prospect of a radical reconfiguration of trade patterns between the Indian Ocean Region, the Middle East and Europe by creating an arc of commercial connectivity spanning Eurasia’s southern rim from India’s Arabian Sea coast to Greece’s eastern Mediterranean coast. 

In contrast to China’s route, India’s Arab-Med Corridor is anchored in nascent manufacturing value chains.
The importance of Afghanistan for China’s Access Across the 40th Parallel
A fundamental requirement for China’s dominance of Eurasia’s connectivity architecture is to develop overland routes that do not traverse Russian territory to reduce Beijing’s vulnerability to interference from Moscow. 

Thus, a primary strategic objective for China is gaining access across the 40th parallel north latitude, spanning the city of Kashi in China’s western Xinjiang province and Baku, the Azerbaijani capital and international port city on the Caspian Sea. 

Crossing the 40th parallel into Eurasia’s southern rim to reach the Middle East is necessary for China to develop China-to-Europe trade routes that do not traverse Russian territory.
india's Arab-Mediterranean Corridor

The Abraham Accords have given India a new map of Middle Eastern connectivity. 

One of the early fruits of the 2020 diplomatic normalisation between the UAE and Israel is the rail connection being established from the UAE via Saudi Arabia and Jordan to the Port of Haifa on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. 

Combined with the trans-Mediterranean maritime link from Haifa to the European mainland at the massive transhipment port in Piraeus, Greece, India’s maritime connectivity with the UAE will soon form part of a larger arc of commercial connectivity extending from India to Greece. 

Freight rail service from Piraeus through the Balkans and Central Europe means that Indian goods can reach Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany – connecting India to major markets and manufacturing centres of Europe. 

The India-to-Europe Arab-Med corridor would provide about the same cost reduction for Indian trade as the most optimistic scenarios for the Iranian-based International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC)

New Delhi will possess an important edge over China in the competition for Middle East connectivity that potentially could change the contours of the strategic architecture of Eurasia’s southern rim.

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.@WHO Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 7 December 2021

Globally, weekly case incidence plateaued this week (29 November - 5 December 2021), with over 4 million confirmed new cases reported, similar to the number reported in the previous week’s figures

However, new weekly deaths increased by 10% as compared to the previous week, with over 52 500 new deaths reported. 

The African Region and the Region of the Americas reported increases in new weekly cases of 79% and 21%, respectively, while the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions both reported decreases of 10%. 

The highest numbers of new cases were reported from 

United States of America (752 394 new cases; a 30% increase)

Germany (396 429 new cases; similar to the previous week’s figures)

United Kingdom (310 696 new cases; similar to the previous week’s figures), 

France (283 500 new cases; a 49% increase) 

Russian Federation (231 240 new cases; similar to the previous week’s figures).

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29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change

The Invisible Microbe has metastasized into Omicron and what we know is that COVID-19 far from becoming less virulent has become more virulent.
The transmissibility of #Omicron is not in question, it clearly has a spectacular advantage.

The Open Question is whether it is more virulent. If it is less virulent then #Omicron is breaking the Trend of increasing virulence.

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When a new SARS-CoV-2 variant arises, there are three main questions: (1) How transmissible? (2) How virulent? (3) How much antigenic change? Third question important as it’s the most actionable @jbloom_lab

When a new SARS-CoV-2 variant arises, there are three main questions: (1) How transmissible? (2) How virulent? (3) How much antigenic change? Third question important as it’s the most actionable: we can update vaccines & develop new antibodies.

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Arguably the laziest and most damaging cognitive error of the pandemic is not appreciating that lagged outcomes like deaths don’t reflect current threat in a rising epidemic. @AdamJKucharski

Arguably the laziest and most damaging cognitive error of the pandemic is not appreciating that lagged outcomes like deaths don’t reflect current threat in a rising epidemic. Remember: first UK COVID case was identified on 31 Jan 2020 - first death was reported on 5 Mar.

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Beyond Omicron: what’s next for COVID’s viral evolution @Nature

As the world sped towards a pandemic in early 2020, evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom gazed into the future of SARS-CoV-2. 

Like many virus specialists at the time, he predicted that the new pathogen would not be eradicated. 

Rather, it would become endemic — the fifth coronavirus to permanently establish itself in humans, alongside four ‘seasonal’ coronaviruses that cause relatively mild colds and have been circulating in humans for decades or more.

Bloom, who is based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, saw these seasonal coronaviruses as potentially providing a roadmap for how SARS-CoV-2 might evolve and for the future of the pandemic. 

But little is known about how these other viruses continue to thrive. One of the best-studied examples — a seasonal coronavirus called 229E — infects people repeatedly throughout their lives. 

But it’s not clear whether these reinfections are the result of fading immune responses in their human hosts or whether changes in the virus help it to dodge immunity. 

To find out, Bloom got hold of decades-old blood samples from people probably exposed to 229E, and tested them for antibodies against different versions of the virus going back to the 1980s.

The results were striking Blood samples from the 1980s contained high levels of infection-blocking antibodies against a 1984 version of 229E. But they had much less capacity to neutralize a 1990s version of the virus. 

They were even less effective against 229E variants from the 2000s and 2010s. The same held true for blood samples from the 1990s: people had immunity to viruses from the recent past, but not to those from the future, suggesting that the virus was evolving to evade immunity.

“Now that we’ve had almost two years to see how SARS-CoV-2 evolves, I think there are clear parallels with 229E,” says Bloom. 

Variants such as Omicron and Delta carry mutations that blunt the potency of antibodies raised against past versions of SARS-CoV-2. And the forces propelling this ‘antigenic change’ are likely to grow stronger as most of the planet gains immunity to the virus through infection, vaccination or both. 

Researchers are racing to characterize the highly mutated Omicron variant. But its rapid rise in South Africa suggests that it has already found a way to dodge human immunity.

How bad is Omicron? What scientists know so far

How SARS-CoV-2 evolves over the next several months and years will determine what the end of this global crisis looks like — whether the virus morphs into another common cold or into something more threatening such as influenza or worse. 

A global vaccination push that has delivered nearly 8 billion doses is shifting the evolutionary landscape, and it’s not clear how the virus will meet this challenge. 

Meanwhile, as some countries lift restrictions to control viral spread, opportunities increase for SARS-CoV-2 to make significant evolutionary leaps.

Scientists are searching for ways to predict the virus’s next moves, looking to other pathogens for clues. 

They are tracking the effects of the mutations in the variants that have arisen so far, while watching out for new ones. 

They expect SARS-CoV-2 eventually to evolve more predictably and become like other respiratory viruses — but when this shift will occur, and which infection it might resemble is not clear.

Researchers are learning as they go, says Andrew Rambaut, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “We haven’t had much to go on.”

An early plateau

scientists tracking the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 are looking out for two broad categories of changes to the virus. 

One makes it more infectious or transmissible, for instance by replicating more quickly so that it spreads more easily through coughs, sneezes and wheezes.  The other enables it to overcome a host’s immune response. 

When a virus first starts spreading in a new host, the lack of pre-existing immunity means that there is little advantage to be gained by evading immunity. 

So, the first — and biggest — gains a new virus will make tend to come through enhancements to infectivity or transmissibility.

“I was thoroughly expecting that this new coronavirus would adapt to humans in a meaningful way — and that would probably mean increased transmissibility,” says Wendy Barclay, a virologist at Imperial College London.

Genome sequencing early in the pandemic showed the virus diversifying and picking up about two single-letter mutations per month. 

This rate of change is about half that of influenza and one-quarter that of HIV, thanks to an error-correcting enzyme coronaviruses possess that is rare among other RNA viruses. 

But few of these early changes seemed to have any effect on the behaviour of SARS-CoV-2, or show signs of being favoured under natural selection.

An early mutation called D614G within the gene encoding the virus’s spike protein — the protein responsible for recognizing and penetrating host cells — seemed to offer a slight transmissibility boost

But this gain was nothing like the leaps in transmissibility that researchers would later observe with the variants Delta and Alpha, says Sarah Otto, an evolutionary biologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Omicron is supercharging the COVID vaccine booster debate

Otto sees the virus’s evolution as like walking in a landscape, where higher elevations equate to improved transmissibility. 

The way she sees it, when SARS-CoV-2 began spreading in humans it seemed to be on a ‘fitness plateau’ surrounded by a landscape of many possible evolutionary outcomes. 

In any given infection, there were probably thousands of viral particles each with unique single-letter mutations, but Otto suspects that few, if any, of these made the virus more infectious. Most changes probably reduced transmissibility.

“If the virus entered at a reasonably high point, any one-step mutation would take it downhill,” Otto says. Summiting higher peaks required the combinations of several mutations to make more-significant gains in its ability to spread.

Reaching new heights

In late 2020 and early 2021, there were signs that SARS-CoV-2 had scaled some distant peaks. Researchers in the United Kingdom spotted a variant called B.1.1.7 that contained numerous mutations in its spike protein. 

“It was a bit unusual because it seemed to come out of nowhere,” says Francois Balloux, a computational biologist at University College London.

That variant — since renamed Alpha — spread at least 50% faster than earlier circulating lineages. 

UK public-health officials linked it to a mysterious rise in cases in southeast England during a national lockdown in November 2020. 

Around the same time, virus hunters in South Africa linked another mutation-laden variant called B.1.351 — now known as Beta — to a second wave of infections there. 

Not long after, a highly transmissible variant, now called Gamma, was tracked to Amazonas state in Brazil.

These three ‘variants of concern’ share some mutations, particularly in key regions of the spike protein involved in recognizing the host-cell ACE2 receptors that the virus uses to enter cells. 

They also carried mutations similar or identical to those spotted in SARS-CoV-2 in people with compromised immune systems whose infections lasted for months. 

This led researchers to speculate that long-term infections might allow the virus to explore different combinations of mutations to find ones that are successful. 

Typical infections lasting days offer fewer opportunities. Super-spreading events, where large numbers of people are infected, might also explain why some variants flourished and others fizzled out.

Whatever their origins, all three variants seemed to be more infectious than the strains they displaced. 

But Beta and Gamma also contained mutations that blunted the potency of infection-blocking ‘neutralizing’ antibodies triggered by previous infection or vaccination. 

This raised the possibility that the virus was beginning to behave in the ways predicted by Bloom’s studies of 229E.

The three variants spread around the world, particularly Alpha, which sparked new waves of COVID-19 as it came to dominate in Europe, North America, the Middle East and beyond (see ‘Variant waves’). 

Many researchers expected that a descendant of Alpha — which seemed to be the most infectious of the bunch — would pick up additional mutations, such as those that evade immune responses, to make it even more successful. 

“That absolutely proved not to be the case,” says Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University in New York City. “Delta came out of left field.”

13. Beyond Omicron: what’s next for COVID’s viral evolution @Nature [continued] 

The Delta dilemma

The Delta variant was identified in India’s Maharashtra state during a ferocious wave of COVID-19 that hit the country in the spring of 2021, and researchers are still taking stock of its consequences for the pandemic. 

Once it arrived in the United Kingdom, the variant spread quickly and epidemiologists determined that it was about 60% more transmissible than Alpha, making it several times as infectious as the first circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2. 

“Delta is kind of a super-Alpha,” says Barclay. “I think the virus is still looking for solutions to adapt to the human host.”

Studies from Barclay’s laboratory and others suggest that Delta made significant gains in its fitness by improving its ability to infect human cells and spread between people

Compared with other variants, including Alpha, Delta multiplies faster and to higher levels in the airways of infected individuals, potentially outpacing initial immune responses against the virus.

Yet researchers expect such gains to become ever smaller. Scientists measure a virus’s inherent ability to spread in an immunologically naive population (that is, unvaccinated and not exposed to the virus previously) by a number called R0, which is the average number of people an infected person infects. 

Since the start of the pandemic this figure has jumped as much as threefold

“At some point, I would expect that increased transmissibility will stop happening,” says Bloom. “It’s not going to become infinitely transmissible.”

 Delta’s R0 is higher than seasonal coronaviruses and influenza, but still lower than that of polio or measles.

Omicron-variant border bans ignore the evidence, say scientists

Other established human viruses do not make the leaps in infectivity that SARS-CoV-2 has in the past two years, and Bloom and other scientists expect the virus to eventually behave in the same way. 

Trevor Bedford, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson, says the virus must balance its ability to replicate to high levels in people’s airways with the need to keep them healthy enough to infect new hosts. 

“The virus doesn’t want to put someone in bed and make them sick enough that they’re not encountering a number of other people,” he says. 

One way for the virus to thread this needle would be to evolve to grow to lower levels in people’s airways, but maintain infections for a longer period of time, increasing the number of new hosts exposed to the virus, says Rambaut. 

“Ultimately there’s going to be trade-off between how much virus you can produce and how quickly you elicit the immune system.” 

By lying low, SARS-CoV-2 could ensure its continued spread.

If the virus evolved in this way, it might become less severe, but that outcome is far from certain. 

“There’s this assumption that something more transmissible becomes less virulent. I don’t think that’s the position we should take,” says Balloux. 

Variants including Alpha, Beta and Delta have been linked to heightened rates of hospitalization and death — potentially because they grow to such high levels in people’s airways. 

The assertion that viruses evolve to become milder “is a bit of a myth”, says Rambaut. “The reality is far more complex.”

The rise of Omicron

Delta and its descendants now account for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases worldwide. Most researchers expected these Delta lineages to eventually outcompete the last holdouts. But Omicron has undermined those predictions. 

“A lot of us were expecting the next weird variant to be a child of Delta, and this is a bit of a wild card,” says Aris Katzourakis, a specialist in viral evolution at the University of Oxford, UK. 

Teams in Botswana and South Africa identified the variant in late November — although researchers say it is unlikely to have originated in either country — and health officials have linked it to a rapidly growing outbreak centred in South Africa’s Gauteng province. 

The variant harbours around 30 changes to spike, many shared with the other variants of concern, and scientists worldwide are working to gauge the threat it poses.

The swift rise in cases of Omicron in South Africa suggests that the new variant has a fitness advantage over Delta, says Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist and biostatistician at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. 

Omicron carries some of the mutations associated with Delta’s sky-high infectivity. But if increased infectivity were the sole reason for its rapid growth, it would translate to an R0 in the 30s, Wenseleers says. “That’s very implausible.”

Instead, he and other researchers suspect that Omicron’s rise may be largely due to its ability to infect people who are immune to Delta through vaccination or previous infection.

COVID vaccine makers brace for a variant worse than Delta

Scientists’ portrait of Omicron is still blurry and it will take weeks before they can fully assess its properties. 

But if the variant is spreading, in part, because of its ability to evade immunity, it fits in with theoretical predictions about how SARS-CoV-2 is likely to evolve, says Sarah Cobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois.

As gains in SARS-CoV-2’s infectivity start to slow, the virus will have to maintain its fitness through overcoming immune responses, says Cobey. 

For instance, if a mutation or set of mutations halved a vaccine’s ability to block transmission, this could vastly increase the number of available hosts in a population. Cobey says it’s hard to imagine that any future gains in infectivity could provide the same boost.

That evolutionary path, towards immune evasion and away from gains in infectivity, is common among established respiratory viruses such as influenza says Adam Kucharski, a mathematical epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

“The easiest way for the virus to cause new epidemics is to evade immunity over time. That’s similar to what we see with the seasonal coronaviruses.”

Lab experiments and sequencing of circulating variants have identified a smorgasbord of mutations in the spike protein that weaken the potency of neutralizing antibodies triggered by infection and vaccination. 

Variants carrying these mutations, such as Beta, have blunted the effectiveness of vaccines. But they have not obliterated the protection that the shots offer, particularly against severe disease.

Compared with other variants, Omicron contains many more of these mutations, particularly in the region of spike that recognizes host cells. 

Preliminary analysis from Bloom suggests that these mutations might render some portions of spike unrecognizable to the antibodies raised by vaccines and previous infection with other strains. But lab experiments and epidemiological studies will be needed to fully appreciate the effects of these mutations.

How the Delta variant achieves its ultrafast spread

Evolving to evade immune responses such as antibodies could also carry some evolutionary costs. A spike mutation that dodges antibodies might reduce the virus’s ability to recognize and bind to host cells. 

The receptor-binding region of spike — the major target for neutralizing antibodies — is relatively small, says Jason McLellan, a structural biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, and the region might be able to tolerate only so much change and still perform its main job of attaching itself to host cells’ ACE2 receptors.

It’s also possible that repeated exposure to different versions of spike — through infection with different virus strains, vaccine updates or both — could eventually build up a wall of immunity that SARS-CoV-2 will have difficulty overcoming. 

Mutations that overcome some people’s antibody responses are unlikely to foil responses across an entire population, and T-cell-mediated immunity, another arm of the immune response, seems to be more resilient to changes in the viral genome.

Such constraints might slow SARS-CoV-2’s evasion of immunity, but they are unlikely to stop it, says Bloom. There is clear evidence that some antibody-dodging mutations do not carry large evolutionary costs, says McLellan. “The virus will always be able to mutate parts of the spike.”

A virus in transition

How SARS-CoV-2 evolves in response to immunity has implications for its transition to an endemic virus. There wouldn’t be a steady baseline level of infections, says Kucharski. “

A lot of people have a flat horizontal line in their head, which is not what endemic infections do.” Instead, the virus is likely to cause outbreaks and epidemics of varying size, like influenza and most other common respiratory infections do.

To predict what these outbreaks will look like, scientists are investigating how quickly a population becomes newly susceptible to infection, says Kucharski, and whether that happens mostly though viral evolution, waning immune responses, or the birth of new children without immunity to the virus. 

“My feeling is that small changes that open up a certain fraction of the previously exposed population to reinfection may be the most likely evolutionary trajectory,” says Rambaut.

The most hopeful — but probably least likely — future for SARS-CoV-2 would be to follow the path of measles. Infection or vaccination provides lifetime protection, and the virus circulates largely on the basis of new births. 

“Even a virus like measles, which has essentially no ability to evolve to evade immunity, is still around,” says Bloom.

Closest known relatives of virus behind COVID-19 found in Laos

A more likely, but still relatively hopeful, parallel for SARS-CoV-2 is a pathogen called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). 

Most people get infected in their first two years of life. RSV is a leading cause of hospitalization of infants, but most childhood cases are mild. 

Waning immunity and viral evolution together allow new strains of RSV to sweep across the planet each year, infecting adults in large numbers, but with mild symptoms thanks to childhood exposure. 

If SARS-CoV-2 follows this path — aided by vaccines that provide strong protection against severe disease — “it becomes essentially a virus of kids,” says Rambaut.

Influenza offers another scenario — in fact two. The influenza A virus, which drives global seasonal influenza epidemics each year, is characterized by the rapid evolution and spread of new variants able to escape the immunity elicited by past strains. 

The result is seasonal epidemics, propelled largely by spread in adults, who can still develop severe symptoms. Flu jabs reduce disease severity and slow transmission, but influenza A’s fast evolution means the vaccines aren’t always well matched to circulating strains.

But if SARS-CoV-2 evolves to evade immunity more sluggishly, it might come to resemble influenza B. That virus’s slower rate of change, compared with influenza A, means that its transmission is driven largely by infections in children, who have less immunity than adults.

How quickly SARS-CoV-2 evolves in response to immunity will also determine whether — and how often — vaccines need to be updated. 

The current offerings will probably need to be updated at some point, says Bedford. 

In a preprint5 published in September, his team found signs that SARS-CoV-2 was evolving much faster than seasonal coronaviruses and even outpacing influenza A, whose major circulating form is called H3N2. 

Bedford expects SARS-CoV-2 to eventually slow down to a steadier state of change. “Whether it’s H3N2-like, where you need to update the vaccine every year or two, or where you need to update the vaccine every five years, or if it’s something worse, I don’t quite know,” he says.

Although other respiratory viruses, including seasonal coronaviruses such as 229E, offer several potential futures for SARS-CoV-2, the virus may go in a different direction entirely, say Rambaut and others. 

The sky-high circulation of the Delta variant and the rise of Omicron — aided by inequitable vaccine roll-outs to lower-income countries and minimal control measures in some wealthy countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom — offer fertile ground for SARS-CoV-2 to take additional surprising evolutionary leaps.

For instance, a document prepared by a UK government science advisory group in July raised the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could become more severe or evade current vaccines by recombining with other coronaviruses. 

Continued circulation in animal reservoirs, such as mink or white-tailed deer, brings more potential for surprising changes, such as immune escape or heightened severity.

It may be that the future of SARS-CoV-2 is still in human hands. Vaccinating as many people as possible, while the jabs are still highly effective, could stop the virus from unlocking changes that drive a new wave. 

“There may be multiple directions that the virus can go in,” Rambaut says, “and the virus hasn’t committed.”

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Nations w/ fast COVID 2wk avg case/day increase @jmlukens

Eswatini: 11264%
South Africa: 309%
Israel: 147%
France: 112%
Sweden: 87%
Norway: 77%
South Korea: 70%
Spain: 63%
Argentina: 63%
Switzerland: 58%

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The Spike gene of Omicron has 25 mutations that change an amino acid. @tony_vandongen

Because of the codon redundancy you would expect ~2 times as many silent mutations: 50.
And there is apparently only 1 silent (“synonymous”) mutation.
Random mutagenesis can not generate such statistics.

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.1295
Dollar Index 96.145
Japan Yen 113.55
Swiss Franc 0.9244
Pound 1.3224
Aussie 0.7156
India Rupee 75.7165
South Korea Won 1180.535
Brazil Real 5.5726
Egypt Pound 15.7111
South Africa Rand 15.9884

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Yeah you good traders can spot the highs and the lows pit pat piffy wing wong wang just like that and make a millino bucks sure no problem bro.
World Currencies

GameKyuubi posted "I AM HODLING," a drunk, semi-coherent, typo-laden rant about his poor trading skills and determination to simply hold his bitcoin from that point on.
"I type d that tyitle twice because I knew it was wrong the first time. Still wrong. w/e," he wrote in reference to the now-famous misspelling of "holding." 
"WHY AM I HOLDING? I'LL TELL YOU WHY," he continued. 
"It's because I'm a bad trader and I KNOW I'M A BAD TRADER.  Yeah you good traders can spot the highs and the lows pit pat piffy wing wong wang just like that and make a millino bucks sure no problem bro."
He concluded that the best course was to hold, since "You only sell in a bear market if you are a good day trader or an illusioned noob.  The people inbetween hold. In a zero-sum game such as this, traders can only take your money if you sell." 
He then confessed he'd had some whiskey and briefly mused about the spelling of whisk(e)y.  [HODL Definition | Investopedia]

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8 JAN 18 :: The Crypto Avocado Millenial Economy.
U.S. Economy

The ‘’Zeitgeist’’ of a time is its defining spirit or its mood. Capturing the ‘’zeitgeist’’ of the Now is not an easy thing because we are living in a dizzyingly fluid moment.

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It was the second wave that killed the dip buyers the most @sunchartist
World Currencies

Crypto Dip being bought is not much different from the Asian financial crisis (central govt raising rates to protect currency)  and the pre-GFC selloff (the entire subprime was $600 bln small in the scheme of things)

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.@WHOAFRO Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 7 December 2021

African Region
The case incidence in the African Region continues to increase with over 79 000 new cases reported during the week of 29 November to 5 December, a 79% increase. 

However, weekly deaths have continued to decrease, with just under 500 new deaths reported in the past week, a 13% decrease. 

Twenty- one of the 49 countries in the region (43%) reported an increase of >10% in new cases as compared to the previous week, with the

highest numbers of new cases reported from 

South Africa (62 021 new cases; 104.6 new cases per 100 000; a 111% increase)

Zimbabwe (4572 new cases; 30.8 new cases per 100 000; a 1361% increase) 

Réunion (2140 new cases; 239.0 new cases per 100 000; a 14% increase). 

However, proportionally, very large increases in the incidence of cases were also seen in Eswatini (1900%), Mozambique (1207%) and Namibia (681%).
Six of the 49 countries in the Region reported an increase of over 10% in the number of new weekly deaths

highest numbers of new deaths reported from 

South Africa (174 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 21% decrease)

Mauritius (126 new deaths; 9.9 new deaths per 100 000; an 31% increase)

Ethiopia (58 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 9% decrease).

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South African excess deaths, a measure of mortality above a historical average, almost doubled in the week ending Nov. 28 as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads

South African excess deaths, a measure of mortality above a historical average, almost doubled in the week ending Nov. 28 from the preceding seven-day period as a new coronavirus variant spread across the country. 
During the period 2,076 more people died than would normally be expected, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. That compares with 1,091 the week earlier.
The rise, while only reflecting a week of data, contrasts with hospitalization numbers that show that most admissions have mild forms of the coronavirus, spurring hope that the omicron variant is more benign than earlier strains. 
Excess deaths are seen as a more accurate measure of the impact of Covid-19 than official deaths. 

While South Africa’s official coronavirus death toll is just over 90,000 the number of excess deaths during the pandemic is 275,000. During the week to Nov. 28 just 174 deaths were officially attributed to the respiratory disease. 
Still, the weekly deaths are well below their peak of about 15,500 in mid-January, at the height of the second wave of infections. 

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Finally, a look at hospitalisations in Gauteng? New admissions doubling ~ every 5 days, and up to 31% of previous peak levels @rid1tweets

Note: hospitalisations lag cases by 1-3 weeks, and with reporting delays need to wait a week to understand actual hospital admissions for previous week

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The Abiy camp is triumphant. PM has been telling regional African leaders "war is over". But is it? @RAbdiAnalyst

This analysis looks at why conflict may be entering a new even deadlier phase and why a transition will be inevitable for genuine peace and reconciliation.

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Hamdok wavers as his isolation grows @Africa_Conf

The prime minister's position looks increasingly untenable as reformers distance themselves from the deal with the generals
Having lost the support of the street and the main opposition groupings, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok faces some stark choices: appoint the ministers of his choice, triggering a confrontation with coup leader General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, or accept the new status quo of total military control. 

If Hamdok stands his ground on the ministers, he may choose to leave office rather than make more concessions to the military, we hear.


Totally untenable

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The outlook for the African banks is negative for the next 12 to 18 months due to subdued recovery, moderately deteriorating loan quality and higher sovereign debt @moodysafrica

African banks' oversized holdings of sovereign debt link their creditworthiness with the creditworthiness of their sovereigns
Solid capital and recovering profitability will help the banks absorb credit losses
The outlook for the African banks is negative for the next 12 to 18 months due to subdued recovery, moderately deteriorating loan quality and higher sovereign debt, Moody's Investors Service said in a report published today.
"Gradual removal of forbearance measures for borrowers will moderately increase loan delinquencies across Africa, particularly in countries where stocks of rescheduled and restructured loans are high, such as Nigeria and Kenya," said Mik Kabeya, a Vice President - Senior Analyst at Moody's and the author of the report. 

"However, higher oil prices will support Nigerian borrowers, and high loan loss reserves will provide a sizeable buffer in Kenya."
Subdued economic growth and persistent spending pressures will keep government debt burdens well above pre-pandemic levels. 

As a result, debt affordability challenges will mount for governments less able to access cheap financing. 

In addition, high volumes of sovereign debt held by Egyptian, Angolan, Ghanaian, Kenyan and South African banks link their credit profiles with sovereign creditworthiness.
Moody's expects capital to remain broadly stable and a gradual rollout of stricter capital requirements to continue. 

Recovering profitability will provide a loss-absorbing buffer as operating income gradually improves (amid higher economic growth and a gradual rise in interest rates), costs stabilise, and loan-loss provisions stay high.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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December 2021

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