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Japan Accused of Covering Up Lambda Variant Infection During Olympics

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Employees at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases claim the government knew of one Lambda variant COVID-19 case before and during the Tokyo Games but kept it hidden.


Seven Days Before the Olympics

Japan confirmed on Aug. 6 that it had received its first positive case of the Lambda variant of COVID-19, but now, the country’s government is fighting off accusations that it deliberately knew of and hid that information long before the start of the Olympic Games.

According to documents reviewed by many local outlets, as well as The Daily Beast, a woman from Peru arrived at Haneda airport and tested positive for COVID-19 on July 20. Because she was from Peru, the home of the Lambda variant, she was flagged as a probable carrier. While the Delta variant has managed to spread over much of the world, lambda has only been recorded in South America and small pockets elsewhere.

However, it has many concerned because like Delta, it’s more infectious than normal COVID-19. On top of that, there’s a possibility that it might be resistant to some vaccines, but researchers are still conducting tests to confirm whether or not that’s the case.

Either way, there have been accusations that the Japanese government didn’t want information about a possible Lamda-infected arrival reaching the public before the Games began.

On July 21, a day after the Peruvian’s arrival and positive test result, the Ministry of Health released their weekly report that tracked how many new cases of COVID-19 occurred in the country and which variants were involved. In that report, there is no mention of Lambda or this woman’s arrival. According to The Daily Beast, which spoke to employees at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the final sequencing of this patient’s results wasn’t finished until July 25, at which point confirmation that she was indeed a carrier of Lambda was confirmed.

To that end, there’s some understanding as to why the Ministry avoiding putting her variant on the July 21 report. Still, there are questions regarding why her arrival and country of origin were completely removed from the publication.

Clear Coverup Indications

The next public report released on July 30 — three days into the Olympic Games — also showed no indication that a carrier of Lambda had arrived in Japan and tested positive.

Then on August 6, at 12:06 a.m. local time, reporters Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai received information about the still-hidden Lambda case and wrote that Lambda had arrived in Japan. However, that same day, the government’s scheduled report still omitted any mention of the Lambda variant. It wasn’t until late that evening that the Ministry of Health finally admitted that there was at least one case of Lambda following repeated media inquiries.

The Ministry has argued that concerns over the Lambda-variant are overblown, claiming that it still hasn’t “landed” in Japan because the infected individual was identified and isolated at the airport, meaning the variant hadn’t yet spread.

Regardless, the revelations have triggered inquiries from opposition lawmakers and drawn increased ire on the Olympic Games, which was seen as the catalyst for why there was an apparent coverup. The Games were already widely unpopular and seen as a detriment for future elections of Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s party. This situation will likely add to future issues at the polls.

It also erodes what trust the Ministry regained after its last scandal in 2018 when it forged numbers to indicate that certain labor practices were beneficial to workers. It was forced to retract those numbers after it was shown that some workers were alleged to have worked more than 24 hours in a day, an impossibility with the current lack of time-travel technology.

See what others are saying: (Japan Subculture Research Center) (The Daily Beast) (Japan Times)

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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