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A new genetic analysis of the virus that causes Covid-19 taken from more than 7,600 patients around the world shows the virus has been circulating in people since late last year, and must have spread extremely quickly after the first infection.
Researchers in Britain looked at mutations in the virus and found evidence of quick spread, but not evidence the virus is becoming more easily transmitted or more likely to cause serious disease.
“The virus is changing, but this in itself does not mean it’s getting worse,” genetics researcher Francois Balloux of the University College London Genetics Institute told CNN.
Balloux and colleagues pulled viral sequences from a giant global database that scientists around the world are using to share data. They looked at samples taken at different times and from different places, and said they indicate that the virus first started infecting people at the end of last year.
“This rules out any scenario that assumes SARSCoV-2 may have been in circulation long before it was identified, and hence have already infected large proportions of the population,” Balloux’s team wrote in their report, published in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution.
“Our results are in line with previous estimates and point to all sequences sharing a common ancestor towards the end of 2019, supporting this as the period when SARS-CoV-2 jumped into its human host,” the team wrote in the report, published Tuesday.
“It’s very recent,” Balloux said. “We are really, really, really confident that the host jump happened late last year.”
They also found genetic evidence that supports suspicions the virus was infecting people in Europe, the US and elsewhere weeks or even months before the first official cases were reported in January and February.
Balloux’s team had their findings reviewed by other experts, a process called peer review, before they were published in the journal. He said some reports by other teams, published online in on what are called pre-print websites, may have drawn incorrect conclusions.
“All viruses naturally mutate. Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected. So far we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious,” Balloux said.
There are at least 1,203,502 cases of coronavirus in the US and at least 71,022 people have died the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases.
The totals includes cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases.
Disney said its Shanghai Disneyland theme park will reopen to the public on May 11.
Shanghai Disneyland has been closed since January. Shanghai's Disneytown, Wishing Star Park and Shanghai Disneyland Hotel reopened in March.
This will mark the first reopening of a Disney theme park since the pandemic prompted the shutdown of theme parks around the world.
Disney will require guests to wear masks, except when dining, and go through temperature screenings as well as use the government-issued Shanghai Health QR code, a contact tracing and early detection system used in China.
Disney said it will also control guest density, limit attendance with an advanced reservation and entry system, increase sanitization and disinfection measures, and train employees on contactless guest interaction.
Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pamela Hymel, said in a statement to guests that this is "an encouraging sign for Disney parks and retail locations all over the world."
Hymel said that the company is working on a plan for domestic US parks to reopen in phases, including the use of virtual queues.
Hymel did not specify whether guests to US Disney theme parks might have to wear face masks, but said, "We'll follow guidance from the government and the medical community regarding enhanced screening measures and prevention measures, including those related to personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face coverings."
The Trump administration is tracking coronavirus conditions in Mexico and Latin America amid concerns the situation may deteriorate and drive migration north as cases in the region increase.
As the virus sweeps through Latin America, the Department of Homeland Security has focused its attention on hospital capacity in the region, and whether the health infrastructure is equipped to adequately test and treat patients.
"Like with anything else, you have to plan for 'what if' scenarios," a department official told CNN.
The administration has largely sealed US borders since the start of the outbreak, leaning on travel restrictions to stem the spread. Like the US, neighboring countries to the south are also wrestling with Covid-19. Over the weekend, Brazil surpassed 100,000 cases of the virus.
The virus has given way to some of the administration's long-standing efforts to curtail immigration, including closing off the border. Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of many of the administration's immigration policies, has previously tried to use diseases, including influenza and the mumps, as grounds to tighten the border.
In recent days, President Trump has repeatedly remarked on the conditions in Latin America, suggesting in a tweet that California "doesn't want people coming over the Southern Border" now there are rising coronavirus cases in Mexico. He also teased imposing restrictions on Brazil last week.
Over the weekend, Trump also spoke with Interim President Jeanine Áñez of Bolivia and President Mario Abdo Benítez of the Republic of Paraguay to discuss the response to the pandemic, offering to provide assistance to both countries.
Earlier in the year, the administration restricted travel from China and Iran. It later expanded those restrictions to most foreign nationals who were in Europe's Schengen Area — 26 countries stretching from Iceland to Greece — and the United Kingdom and Ireland. Trump has heralded those efforts in his defense of the administration's response to the coronavirus.
The US has curtailed travel on its borders and invoked public health law to implement strict measures on the US-Mexico border, which have also led to the swift removal of thousands of migrants, including children, and people seeking asylum.
The US has by far the highest number of people infected with coronavirus in the world.
The leading epidemiologist who advised the UK government on the coronavirus response has resigned from his government post today after the Telegraph newspaper reported he broke lockdown rules.
Professor Neil Ferguson, who is based at Imperial College in London, is one of the architects of the UK government stay-at-home strategy and was a prominent member of Britain's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which has been spearheading the coronavirus response.
In a statement to CNN, Ferguson said he accepted he made "an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action," and therefore stepped back from his involvement in SAGE.
"I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms," Ferguson said.
"I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic. The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us,” Ferguson said.
A top US general said there isn't conclusive evidence on where the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, saying “we don’t know” whether it began in a Chinese lab or a wet market.
Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley said, “Did it come out of the virology lab in Wuhan, did it occur in the wet market there in Wuhan or did it occur somewhere else? And the answer to that is we don’t know and as mentioned by many people various agencies both civilian and US government are looking at that.”
Some background: President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly claimed there is evidence that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan lab.
Milley said, “the weight of evidence is that it was natural and not manmade,” and also said while there was still not “conclusive evidence” on whether or not the virus was accidentally or deliberately released in Wuhan, China, “the weight of evidence is that it was probably not intentional.”
“It would help a great deal if the Chinese government would open up and allow inspectors and investigators to go there in full transparency so that the world can know the actual original source of this so that we can apply the lessons learned and prevent outbreaks in the future,” Milley added.
Intelligence shared among Five Eyes nations indicates it is "highly unlikely" that the coronavirus outbreak was spread as a result of an accident in a laboratory but rather originated in a Chinese market.
For a second consecutive day in France, the number of people who have died from coronavirus has increased, the Ministry of Health said today.
At least 330 died in the past day, a spike after the number of fatalities had previously been decreasing.
A total of 25,531 people in France have now died after contracting the virus.
But the number of patients in critical care is decreasing, as is the overall number of hospitalizations.
US President Donald Trump's pick to be director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, was grilled today by senators over his views about the intelligence community's investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China.
The Texas Republican faced questions from both Democrats and Republicans on whether he would provide intelligence to a President who might not want to hear it.
If confirmed as director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe would lead the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community as head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Ratcliffe said his primary focus for the intelligence community would be on the impact of coronavirus around the world, as well as questions about its origins in Wuhan, China.
Ratcliffe said he views China as the "greatest threat actor" to the United States right now, citing China's role in the coronavirus outbreak along with cybersecurity and technology issues.
All roads lead to China," Ratcliffe said.
Asked if he'd seen evidence the coronavirus originated in a lab as the president has suggested, Ratcliffe said he had not. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, then asked Ratcliffe if he'd seen evidence the virus originated in a Wuhan market. He also said he had not.
CNN reported Monday that intelligence shared among Five Eyes nations indicates it is "highly unlikely" that the coronavirus outbreak was spread as a result of an accident in a laboratory but rather originated in a Chinese market, according to two Western officials who cited the intelligence assessment.