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Chinese Canadians denounce rising xenophobia tied to coronavirus

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Montreal, Canada – Frank Ye still remembers being rejected on the playground when he was six years old.

The now 23-year-old had moved to Canada a year earlier from China, and he was starting school in the Toronto area at the height of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003. His classmates did not want to play with him.

“The memories I have of that time was really on an individual level about what I faced being a Chinese child at school, and that was children telling me to go away. ‘You can’t play with us because all Chinese people have SARS,'” he told Al Jazeera.

Now, with the novel coronavirus spreading around the world from the outbreak’s epicentre in China, Ye and other Chinese Canadians say they fear the xenophobia and racism that they experienced at the height of the SARS outbreak is increasing again.

Ye, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, said blaming Chinese Canadians for a virus that is not their fault is dehumanising and belittling and can be especially damaging for children.

“We risk really ostracising the community, we risk hurting businesses, we risk hurting people because we’re letting paranoia rather than facts drive how we react to this,” he said.

Social media driving xenophobia

The coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, has killed at least 259 people inside the country to date.

It has also spread to several countries worldwide, prompting the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare the outbreak a global emergency.

Members of the Chinese-Canadian community say fears about the spread of the disease – around which misinformation is rife – have also led to what they feel is an uptick in xenophobia in Canada, where three confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed so far.

A traveller wears a mask at Pearson airport arrivals, shortly after Toronto Public Health received notification of Canada’s first presumptive confirmed case of novel coronavirus, in Toronto, Ontario [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

A similar situation developed during the SARS outbreak in 2003. There were more than 8,000 reported SARS cases at that time, and the epidemic spread to 26 countries, including Canada, where 44 people died from the disease.

During the SARS outbreak, Amy Go worked at a long-term geriatric care facility in Toronto that primarily served Chinese Canadians, and she said people regularly accused them of harbouring the disease there.

Go, now the interim executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, a human rights group, said social media has become the place where “vile, racist comments” are festering around the current coronavirus outbreak.

There are still only ultimately three [coronavirus] cases in Canada. Three. Common flu kills 3,500 Canadians every year. Let’s put this in perspective.

Amy Go, interim executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice

She said she has seen comments online such as, “Quarantine all Chinese until Chinese virus is gone” and “Stop immigration from China because they carry this disease”. The brazen racism people displayed online is something she said she did not see during the SARS outbreak.

“There are still only ultimately three [coronavirus] cases in Canada. Three. Common flu kills 3,500 Canadians every year. Let’s put this in perspective,” she told Al Jazeera.

Go likened those attitudes to the “Yellow Peril”, a period of fearmongering around Chinese immigration to Canada at the turn of the 20th century.

“This kind of violation of human rights, this further stigmatisation, this entrenchment of ‘Yellow Peril’ perception … ultimately, collectively we bear the consequences,” she said. “When coronavirus is controlled, guess what’s left still? [The idea that] Chinese are the carriers of diseases.”

Stigmatising the ‘other’

Harris Ali, a sociology professor at Toronto’s York University who has researched the 2003 SARS outbreak response, said many of the racist incidents at that time were individualised. They ranged from people harassing other commuters on the bus or subway, crossing the street when someone of a particular ethnic group was walking by, or leaving hateful messages at places serving the Chinese community.

In the case of the coronavirus, Ali also said social media has emerged as the main place where people are spreading xenophobia.

He pointed to a recent petition set up by parents at a Toronto-area school board. Signed by nearly 10,000 people, the petition calls on the York District School Board (YDSB) to order its schools to track and name any students who recently travelled to China and ask those students “to stay at home and keep isolated”.

“York region has a large Chinese-Canadian population. There were a lot of people travelling to China before or during the Chinese New Year. We cannot be overly cautious in protecting our children,” the petition read.

Canada coronavirus

A directions sign is seen at Sunnybrook Hospital, where a patient is being treated in isolation for what Canadian health officials said was the first presumptive confirmed case of novel coronavirus, in Toronto, Ontario [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Ali said this “Othering” is harmful because it creates a situation in which people can easily find and target scapegoats. “Under extreme situations, people let their guard down and [they] just lash out at the most visible, simple and apparent thing,” he told Al Jazeera.

The YDSB responded to the petition on January 27, saying it was important that the coronavirus “not be seen as a Chinese virus” or that assumptions be made about the risks of others.

“Situations such as these can regrettably give rise to discrimination based on perceptions, stereotypes and hate,” the school board said in an open letter. “It’s important that we not make assumptions about students or staff based on their race or travel history.”

According to Ali, xenophobia can also have a harmful effect on the ability to fight the spread of a disease.

If someone fears being shunned for being associated with a virus, he or she may not come forward to see a doctor, and then the virus will be more difficult to contain and treat. “Stigmatisation is important. It does play into the physical aspects of the disease spread; they’re not separable,” Ali said.

Public health

Justin Kong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto chapter, a local advocacy group not directly affiliated with Amy Go’s organisation, said a general climate of fear has developed around the virus among all residents of the city.

Within the Chinese-Canadian community, he said that fear is two-fold: People are afraid of the disease itself, as well as any possible social ramifications they could face as a group. “We saw that [with] SARS: both the economic and the social damage done by it … the stigmatisation of Chinese areas, of Chinese-Canadian people,” Kong told Al Jazeera.

He said he has already seen people from outside of the Chinese-Canadian community “avoiding a lot of places that are associated with Chinese-ness or Chinese Canadians”.

When we peddle racist ideas, when we peddle xenophobia, that isn’t going to protect you from the virus … Proper public health procedures and precautions will protect you from the virus. Racism won’t.

Frank Ye

Education and open communication with all community members are critical to combat disinformation around the coronavirus this time around, he said, and health experts and community groups are more readily prepared to combat racism and discrimination than they were during the SARS outbreak.

“We shouldn’t have a blanket fear of anyone that looks Chinese or is Chinese,” Kong said. “Obviously, public health is doing the best that they can to make sure everyone is safe, and we trust that they will do that.”

That was echoed by Ye, the University of Toronto student, who also urged people to be careful about what they share online to avoid spreading misinformation.

“When we peddle racist ideas, when we peddle xenophobia, that isn’t going to protect you from the virus,” he said. “Proper public health procedures and precautions will protect you from the virus. Racism won’t.”

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UBC researchers say they've found 'weak spot' in all COVID-19 variants that could lead to better treatment – CBC.ca

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered what they describe as a “weak spot” in all of the major variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 — a revelation they believe could open the door for treatments to fight current and future mutations.

In a peer-reviewed study published Thursday, the research team said they found a largely consistent soft spot — like a dent in the virus’s spike protein armour — that has survived the coronavirus’s mutations to date. Scientists determined a certain antibody fragment was able to “effectively neutralize” all the variants, to some degree, because it exploited the vulnerability.

“What’s exciting is what it tells us we can do now. Once you know the [weak] spot, it’s a bit like the gold rush analogy. We know where to go,” said Sriram Subramaniam, the study’s senior author and a professor with UBC’s faculty of medicine.

“We can now use this information … to design better antibodies that can then take advantage of that [weak] site.”

Looking for the ‘master key’

Antibodies are naturally produced by the body to fight infection, but can also be created in a laboratory to administer as treatment. Several antibody treatments already exist to fight COVID-19, but their effectiveness fades against highly mutated variants like the recently dominant Omicron. 

“Antibodies attach to a virus in a very specific manner, like a key going into a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key no longer fits,” Subramaniam wrote in a statement.

“We’ve been looking for master keys — antibodies that continue to neutralize the virus even after extensive mutations.” 

A nurse provides information to parents and children during the first week of COVID-19 immunization for children over six months at a Vancouver Coastal Health clinic in Vancouver on Aug. 4. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Subramaniam said the antibody fragment identified in the paper would be that “master key.”

Matthew Miller, director of the DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., described the findings as “a really important development” in the fight against COVID-19.

“It’s been able to show that this antibody works against all of them and that’s really unique…. It certainly raises the hope that this [weak] area they’re targeting would be an area the virus would have a lot of trouble changing — even going forward, because if it were easy to change, it’s very likely [the virus] would have tried to change it already,” said Miller, who was not involved in the study.

“Now … viruses can always trick us,” he noted in an interview Thursday. “They’re smart. There’s always ways out. But what we want to do is make it as hard as possible to do that.”

High-tech imaging used to study virus

As part of the study, published in Nature Communications, the research team used a process called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to examine the weak spot on the virus’s spike protein, called an epitope.

Cryo-EM technology involves freezing samples of the virus and taking hundreds of thousands of photos — similar to X-rays — used to recreate a 3D model of the molecule from an atomic level.

“Imagine you were the size of an atom and you could watch exactly what was going on,” Subramaniam explained.

Through the process, the team saw how antibodies interacted with virus. The antibody fragment, called VH Ab6, was able to latch on to the weak spot and neutralize the virus.

Subramaniam said drug companies could exploit the weakness to create a potentially “variant-resistant” treatment.

  • Do you have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at ask@cbc.ca

The researcher noted that developments resulting from the team’s discovery won’t be part of COVID-19 treatment in clinics for some time, but he described it as one more step in understanding the coronavirus itself and the illness it causes.

“We never know if this antibody will suddenly not be effective against the next variant or not…. But we’re just saying that it stood up really well to being able to neutralize the variants we’ve seen to date,” Subramaniam said.

The UBC team collaborated with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, who have been screening large antibody libraries and testing their effectiveness against COVID-19.

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U.S. offers extra monkeypox vaccine doses for gay pride events – CTV News

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NEW YORK –

The U.S. is setting aside an extra 50,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine for places with upcoming gay pride events, health officials said Thursday.

The number of doses sent to each place will be based on factors like the size of the event, how many health workers will be available to give shots, and how many of the attendees are considered at highest risk for catching the virus.

“More shots in arms is how we get the outbreak under control,” Bob Fenton, the White House monkey pox response coordinator, told reporters Thursday. He said the effort is an attempt to “meet people where they are.”

At least a dozen U.S. pride events are scheduled over the next two months, including large gatherings in Atlanta and New Orleans in early September. U.S. officials said they will send up to 2,000 additional doses to North Carolina, where the Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade will be held this weekend.

Southern Decadence, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ events, is expected to attract 200,000 or more people to New Orleans over Labour Day weekend. The Bourbon Street Extravaganza, a free concert held amid the event, has been cancelled over monkey pox concerns, organizers said this week.

Frank Perez, a former grand marshal of the parade that’s the centrepiece of Southern Decadence, said a number of New Orleans gay bars have already had vaccine events. He said so far officials have done an adequate job with the vaccine campaign although “more is better.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned: “While we are offering the vaccine at these events to those at high risk, this is a two-dose vaccine series, and receiving the vaccine at the event will not provide protection at the event itself.”

Health officials also are urging other steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including temporarily limiting sexual partners.

Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, but it wasn’t considered a disease that spreads easily among people until May, when infections emerged in Europe and the U.S.

There have been more than 39,000 cases reported in countries that have not historically seen monkey pox. The vast majority have occurred in men who have sex with men, but health officials stress that anyone can get monkey pox.

The U.S. has the most infections of any country – more than 13,500. About 98% of U.S. cases are men and about 93% were men who reported recent sexual contact with other men.

Officials say the virus has been spreading mainly through skin-on-skin contact, but they warn it might also transmit in other ways, including through touching linens used by someone with monkey pox.

People with monkey pox may experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. Many in the outbreak have developed extremely painful zit-like bumps. No one in the U.S. has died, but deaths have been reported in other countries.

The U.S. has a limited supply of what is considered the main weapon against the virus – a vaccine called Jynneos. The doses are currently being given to people soon after they think they were exposed. Scientists are still trying to establish how well the shots are working.

The government last week moved to stretch the supply by giving people one-fifth the usual dose, injected just under the skin, instead of a full vial injected into deeper tissue.

Many health workers may have little experience giving shots using the just-under-the-skin method, which requires different needles and syringes. Some health departments have started doing that, but some local officials have said they may need a week or more to make the change.

Officials this week announced the release of 442,000 of the smaller doses for order by state, local and territorial health departments. On Thursday, they said more is coming next week – 1.8 million doses, or 360,000 vials.

Officials also announced a new agreement with a Michigan manufacturer to help speed production of 5.5 million vaccine vials recently ordered by the U.S. government.

Under the deal, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing will help package raw vaccine ingredients currently stored at an overseas facility owned by Bavarian Nordic, which makes the Jynneos vaccine. Officials said the extra capacity should help speed up U.S. vaccine orders, most of which weren’t expected to be delivered until next year. The Biden administration has faced weeks of criticism for not ordering more vaccine sooner.

Also on Thursday, health officials said next week they will boost the supply of TPOXX, a drug for treating monkey pox infections, by 50,000 treatment courses.

——

AP reporters Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Matthew Perrone in Washington contributed to this report.

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‘Weak spot’ in virus responsible for COVID-19 could mean new treatments: researchers

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VANCOUVER — Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered what they are calling a “weak spot” in the virus that causes COVID-19.

A study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications says the “key vulnerability” is found in all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Researchers say exploiting that weakness could pave the way for new treatments that would be effective against all strains of the illness that has killed almost 6.5-million people across the globe since it was identified more than two years ago.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, a professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, says the team studied the virus at an atomic level, found the weak spot and identified an antibody fragment that can attach to it and all other variants, including the surging Omicron subvariants.

Antibodies counteract viruses by attaching like a key in a lock and are no longer effective when the virus mutates quickly, but Subramaniam says the weak spot is constant in all seven major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing one antibody to act as a “master key” capable of overcoming extensive mutations.

Subramaniam says the weak spot and master key identified in the study “unlock a whole new realm of treatment possibilities” that have the potential to be effective against current or future variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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