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Exclusive: Brazilian Researchers on Discovery of COVID-19 Virus in November Sewage

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A Brazilian research team found samples of the new coronavirus in the sewer system of the southern city of Florianopolis back in late November 2019, three months before the first COVID-19 case was officially recorded in the country on February 26.

The researchers from the Applied Virology Lab at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) published their findings in a paper on June 26. CGTN’s correspondent in Brazil, Paulo Cabral, has spoken to two leading researchers on the team for more details about their discovery.

Screenshot of the study on medRxiv.

“We are sure of what we found in the November sample. It is the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We have no doubts about that,” Patricia Stoco, a geneticist at the lab, told CGTN.

“We are now effectively working on sequencing the whole genome of these samples, so we’ll be able to compare the sequencing of the virus found in our samples from late November with that of the virus now actually circulating and infecting people,” she said.

“Doing that we could maybe detect mutations that could possibly explain the increase in the number of cases now,” she added, stressing that comparing the full genetic sequencing is important to deepen understanding about the virus.

Gislaine Fongaro, a virologist at the university, explained how the research was conducted. She said the samples were collected from raw sewage in the pipes en route to the treatment plant.

“These samples were collected monthly between October 2019 and March 2020. So we take the samples to the laboratory and freeze them. That’s why we could go back over them now – they were frozen,” she said.

“Results came back negative for SARS-CoV-2 in the samples from October. And then negative again in the early November samples. But then results came back positive for the first time for a sample from November 27. And then all samples tested came back positive until March 2020,” she explained.

She said it’s possible that if they went further back, they could find more positive results for the novel coronavirus.

“It would be very important if we could review samples dating back to the beginning of the year [of 2019],” she said, adding that she hopes their research will encourage other teams who may have access to older samples to check them, and also encourage researchers to look into other older clinical samples taken from patients, which could also help tell the story of the virus.

“Because if we found this in the sewer, that’s because people were already carrying the virus. That means there were already people who were infected but were not diagnosed because we did not know about the virus back then,” she noted.

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First Batch of Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Lands in Serbia

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The first batch of one million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Beijing-based pharmaceutical company Sinopharm arrived in Belgrade, Serbia at 9:50 a.m. local time on Saturday.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, local officials, and Chinese Ambassador to Serbia Chen Bo received the consignment at Nikola Tesla International Airport in Belgrade.

Vucic said that the arrival of the vaccine is “proof of the great friendship between Serbia and China,” and it will help protect the lives of 500,000 people, adding he will also get vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine.

The vaccinations will start once the Chinese vaccine gets a final approval by Serbia’s Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices.

“As an ordinary person and the president of Serbia, I am convinced of the quality of the Chinese vaccine, which will be decided by our competent agency,” Vucic said.

Serbia has also purchased Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine as well as a jab jointly developed by America’s Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

The country started its COVID-19 vaccination drive late last month, and so far the country has obtained around 1.4 million doses of vaccines.

Nearly 370,000 COVID-19 infections have been reported in Serbia, while 3,708 people have died. A total of 5,409 patients are hospitalized across the country, of whom 196 have been put on respiratory ventilators.

During the pandemic, aside from providing medical supplies, China sent a medical expert team to Serbia which stayed there for months to help Serbian authorities coordinate the country’s anti-pandemic response, and the Chinese BGI group, a genome research company, also assisted the country build two “Fire Eye” testing labs.

Chinese Ambassador Chen said that Serbia and China are fighting the coronavirus side by side, and “China is the first country in the world to promise that its vaccine will be a global public good.”

“The Sinopharm vaccine was officially registered in China on December 30, and it arrived in Serbia only after 16 days. The arrival of the Chinese vaccine is part of our joint fight against the virus, and I believe it will contribute to fighting the epidemic in Serbia,” Chen said.

(With input from Xinhua)

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Infrastructure For Tomorrow: Interview With AIIB Vice President On Response To Future Challenges

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WHO Spokesperson Reveals Details Of Its Expert Team Visit To Wuhan

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Even as vaccines are rolled out, COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, having caused nearly 2 million deaths. The situation is in dire need of stronger global cooperation. That spirit can be at least reflected by the latest World Health Organization (WHO) expert team’s visit to China which will start in Wuhan, where the first cases of infections in China were reported.

“This is about understanding what happened so that the world can be better equipped as the world to prevent it happening again,” said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris in an exclusive interview with CGTN host Tian Wei. She stressed that the field trip is “not about finding someone to blame. Let’s leave the politics out of it.”

Dr. Harris revealed that preparations about the mission started last October. There were a few virtual meetings held since then. This trip will be about a wide variety of subjects related to the discovery research of the origins of COVID-19. While no quick answers are expected.

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The WHO team of 10 experts from 10 different countries are expected to visit the Chinese city Wuhan, where cases of infections were first reported at the end of 2019. Yet later discoveries found the presence of the virus in Spain, Italy and the U.S., demonstrating how much is still unknown about the virus.

While the world is bogged down by this pandemic, there appear a few COVID-19 vaccine candidates that have been developed at unprecedented speed. But that very fact has made people uneasy: was it developed too fast? Are those vaccines trustworthy?

“People should be concerned about the safety issues,” noted Dr. Harris, but she explained that one thing that has really slowed down vaccine development in the past was getting the funding for the studies, and this time that part got ample support.

Harris said that only after very careful review of data on issues of safety and efficacy, and visiting manufacturing factories, would the WHO put a vaccine on its Emergency Use Listing (EUL). So far only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received the validation at the end of last year, but more announcements could be made as soon as in the next few weeks, according to Harris. Among those are candidates coming from Sinopharm and Sinovac, two Chinese vaccine developers.

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The COVAX program was set up by the WHO with GAVI, the vaccine alliance, to help distribute vaccines to more countries. China joined COVAX last year.

Out of the 42 countries that are rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, 36 are high-income countries and six middle-income countries. “So there’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this month.

“We are not happy that it’s not happening quickly enough,” said Harris, “but we determined to make it happen.”

World Insight with Tian Wei is an international platform for debate and intelligent discussion. It is the meeting point of both the highly influential and rising voices, facilitated by host Tian Wei. It provides nutrition to form your own thoughts and ideas through a 45-minute live debate and interviews.

Schedule: Monday-Saturday

Time (GMT): 1415, 2015

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)

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