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Daily Archives: January 27, 2022

Charts: Contracts to Buy U.S. Previously Owned Homes Declined in December 2021

Source : Trading Economics

Chart: The American Economy Expanded an Annualized 6.9% in Q4 2021, Well Above Forecasts of 5.5%

Source : Trading Economics

Chart: Nearly 40 percent of All Illinois COVID Deaths in the Last Month Are Breakthroughs

Source : Wirepoints

Music Video: Over You

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

Watch video at You Tube (2:23 minutes) . . . .

Chinese Buyers Join Metaverse Land Rush

Jiang Yaling wrote . . . . . . . . .

Artist Huang Heshan started building virtual houses as an art project. Now, a boom in interest in virtual property has got him selling them for very real money.

His project TooRichCity is a virtual city led by a fictional middle-aged bald man who is not shy about showing his belly, and composed of tottering towers made of 3D-rendered concrete and rustic, campy shop signs Huang collected in China’s lower-tier cities and villages.

Huang initially imagined TooRichCity to be an “intellectual property” that could be franchised as a movie or TV series, but he added a metaverse angle to it this July while preparing for a creators’ event. It proved to be a lucrative move.

He sold 310 “houses” — digital images of buildings in the form of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, unique units of data stored on a blockchain — within two days for 400,000 yuan ($63,000), mostly to young buyers. Each buyer received a property certificate and an invitation into a group for owners on social app WeChat, like any house buyer in China. The main difference is that property owners in TooRichCity cannot yet experience their estate, except by admiring a picture of it.

As the offline housing market in China hit a “historic” low point with the fall of property giant Evergrande, according to Beike Research Institute, virtual real estate is a hot commodity, driving front-page articles and hot conversations on social media. The domestic trade publication China Real Estate Business listed “metaverse property” first in an article on the “top 10 industry news of 2021.”

Facebook’s recent name change to Meta has helped fuel hype for metaverse products of all kinds. Meanwhile, “metaverse property” remains a loosely defined term. While believers look forward to one day owning houses in a Matrix-like simulated world, the market now includes everything from digital images of houses traded as NFTs to virtual reality houses in games.

Hot properties

Much of the enthusiasm around metaverse property is being driven by the success of Decentraland and The Sandbox, virtual worlds that offer users the right to buy virtual land and customize it as a sort of localized video game, with land records kept on a blockchain. A fitting comparison would be if you reimagined the video game Second Life for the blockchain generation.

The U.S.-developed projects have attracted eye-catching investments from celebrities, including the American rapper Snoop Dogg and Singaporean Mandopop star JJ Lin. These deals also made headlines in China, and over recent months several high-profile Hong Kong investors — such as Adrian Cheng of New World Development and the real estate firm Sun Hung Kai Properties — have also bought into The Sandbox.

Now, a growing number of people on the Chinese mainland are scrambling to buy up real estate inside Decentraland and The Sandbox. Carson, an early Chinese investor in The Sandbox, told Sixth Tone that metaverse property is attracting three kinds of people in particular, namely, “The opportunists, the investors, and the idealists.”

Owners of virtual land in The Sandbox or Decentraland can use them to build custom “worlds” — essentially, video games made with a set of tools provided by the platform. “Metaverse property represents the right to choose your own lifestyle,” Carson said.

Carson, who prefers to be referred to by his pseudonym in the blockchain world, self-identified as an idealist. Carson is a member of a crypto community that jointly runs a Sandbox world called LuluLand. He’s a council member of LuluLand’s “decentralized autonomous organization.” LuluLand recently held a Christmas party at which users played online games including hide-and-seek and participated in treasure hunts for prizes like snowman NFTs.

It is not a world everyone in China has access to. Buying land on platforms like The Sandbox takes cryptocurrency, and all cryptocurrency transactions have been banned since September. Determined Chinese residents need a virtual private network and overseas bank account to buy in.

For this niche group, real estate NFTs have so far proved lucrative. Over the last two months, the price of land in The Sandbox has increased over thirteenfold from around $1,175 to $15,612. It is not known how much of this money came from Chinese players.

Despite an ongoing crackdown on cryptocurrency mining and trading, the Chinese government has not banned NFTs or the metaverse, pointed out Winston Ma, an adjunct professor at NYU Law School.

“However, when NFT includes the term ‘token,’ and the NFT trading market sees exponential growth of volume, it’s hard to imagine that NFTs can develop in China without being associated with cryptocurrency — and the related regulations,” Ma said.

Domestic brands

There are other ways to join the hype within China. You can get the virtual reality experience without the property deed, or the property deed without the virtual reality experience.

Hu Qiaohao has a “metaverse property,” as he called it in vlogs on Bilibili and Xiaohongshu, with a panoramic view of Earth that cost just around 3,000 yuan: there is a bedroom, a living room, and a mini-fridge containing 3D images of his favorite drinks. The key to his virtual home is a virtual reality headset from Beijing-based VR start-up Pico Interactive, which was recently acquired by Chinese tech giant ByteDance for 5 billion yuan.

Every Pico user can access and customize a virtual home in their headset, including purchasing virtual furnishings, and invite other Pico users over. There’s no way to sell a virtual Pico house to someone else unless the owner resells their headsets.

“When you log in, you see an immersive space that we call home; you can talk to others and play interactive games,” the VR industry professional told Sixth Tone. “Real estate companies could build commercial streets, and when people have their virtual avatars, they can go shopping together and watch movies like they do in real life.”

Meanwhile, a digital product with a metaverse twist saw a boost in attention and value last year, before being flagged by market regulators for creating market-moving hype.

Virtual houses — 3D renderings that serve as the user’s home base — from Chinese life simulation mobile game Honnverse spilled into secondhand trading app Xianyu for resale after the game launched in late October.

Some early users got virtual homes through a lucky draw during beta testing, before deciding to flip them. One priced their 3D glasshouse for 980 yuan; another offered a chalet for 999 yuan.

One user from the southern province of Guangdong, who listed a virtual seaside villa for 2,999 yuan, told Sixth Tone he had a dismissive view of Honnverse despite wanting to turn a buck from it.

“This is all fake. I believe in the metaverse, but Honnverse and metaverse are two different things — having a property in Honnverse is like FarmVille,” said the user, who refused to disclose his name for privacy reasons. He said he received over a dozen inquiries in the first few days of listing the property.

Stock of Honnverse’s creator In My Show surged after CEO Li Meng released a public letter envisioning a metaverse future, with its market cap rising 500 million yuan between Nov. 18 and Nov. 19.

But the boom did not last long. On Nov. 20, the Shanghai Stock Exchange accused the company of misleading investors by describing its plans outside official channels. Xianyu removed all products mentioning Honnverse after two weeks, including the Guangdong user’s seaside villa.

Following the incident, he mused, “With real houses, it’s all about ‘living in, not speculation,’” referring to an anti-speculation slogan. “Are they going to let us play games with digital ones?”.

Long road ahead

In addition to regulatory uncertainties, aspiring metaverse property owners need to be aware of technological limits.

“We are still a bit far away from the ultimate metaverse,” Chen Dongyao, assistant professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told Sixth Tone. “An immersive user interface experience is one of the key missing pieces from a technology perspective,” he said.

“Metaverse could be the ultimate application to orchestrate a wide range of the latest computing technologies such as VR, AI, and 5G. I believe [it] has great potential,” Chen added. A team he recently led invented a wearable and untethered on-body hand-tracking system called MagX, allowing users to employ natural gestures in interactive scenarios within the metaverse.

Chen sees hardware as the driving force to improving the user experience. VR headsets are as close as most people can come to a metaverse experience, but they are often “cumbersome and awkward,” he said, adding that the science and business world should also work to develop hardware and explore applications beyond gaming.

Poor user experience and a lack of content are two of the most prominent issues in the market adoption of VR and AR, but that is changing as more creators and developers join the industry. Market research firm IDC has predicted that China will become the world’s largest consumer market for AR and VR by 2024, accounting for 36% of the world market.

But technology won’t attract users unless there’s something to see, so metaverse companies are also courting content creators. Artist Huang’s team is in talks with The Sandbox and Decentraland to bring the TooRichCity IP onto a blockchain-enabled platform, so that prospective house buyers can tour their property and residential compound. He imagines buyers one day running small businesses, selling street food or mending bicycles — common trades in China’s lower-tier cities, where Huang got inspiration for the project — via digital avatars.

For some investors, technology development isn’t the point. It doesn’t matter what equipment is ready because “imagination matters the most,” said Yan Suji, founder and CEO of Mask Network, an Ethereum-based encrypted messaging application.

There are many ways to make financial bets on the metaverse, but the concept of property may be easier to understand than others for retail investors, he said.

Yan has invested in a “digital construction company” that relies on the “play-to-earn” model made famous by Axie Infinity, in which users perform repetitive tasks in order to earn tokens and NFTs.

It’s all in the cloud, but so are many offline real estate purchases, said Yan. “You imagine Evergrande would never breach its contract, so you buy a house that will be completed in three years,” he said. “If you are willing to buy that, what are you not ready to buy?”


Source : Sixth Tone

The Three Types of US ‘Regime Change’

Joe Lauria wrote . . . . . . . . .

Throughout the long, documented history of the United States illegally overthrowing governments of foreign lands to build a global empire there has emerged three ways Washington broadly carries out “regime change.”

From Above. If the targeted leader has been democratically elected and enjoys popular support, the C.I.A. has worked with elite groups, such as the military, to overthrow him (sometimes through assassination). Among several examples is the first C.I.A-backed coup d’état, on March 30, 1949, just 18 months after the agency’s founding, when Syrian Army Colonel Husni al-Za’im overthrew the elected president, Shukri al-Quwatli.

The C.I.A. in 1954 toppled the elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala, who was replaced with a military dictator. In 1961, just three days before the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, who favored his release, Congolese President Patrice Lumumba was assassinated with C.I.A. assistance, bringing military strongman Mobutu Sese Seko to power. In 1973, the U.S. backed Chilean General Augusto Pinochet to overthrow and kill the democratically-elected, socialist President Salvador Allende, setting up a military dictatorship, one of many U.S.-installed military dictatorships of that era in Latin America under Operation Condor.

From Below. If the targeted government faces genuine popular unrest, the U.S. will foment and organize it to topple the leader, elected or otherwise. 1958-59 anti-communist protests in Kerala, India, locally supported by the Congress Party and the Catholic Church, were funded by the C.I.A., leading to the removal of the elected communist government. The 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was a combination of bottom-up C.I.A. (and MI-6)-backed street protests, and top-down conservative clergy and military to destroy democracy and return a monarch to the throne. The U.S.-backed Ukrainian coup of 2014 is the latest example of the U.S. working with genuine popular dissent to help organize and steer the overthrow, in this case, of an OSCE-certified elected president.

Through Military Intervention. If a coup is not feasible, the U.S. turns to indirect or direct military intervention. One of earliest examples was the U.S. expeditionary force that invaded Russia in 1918 during the civil war in an attempt to help overthrow the new Bolshevik government. More recently, in 1983 the U.S. military invaded Grenada to overthrow a Marxist president; in 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama to overthrow former C.I.A. asset Manuela Noriega.

Another hybrid operation was the U.S. bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the State Department funding of the opposition group Otpor!, which led to the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic. The most prominent recent examples of direct military invasion to overthrow governments are the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Indirect military intervention through proxies to overthrow governments happened in the 1980s Contra war against Nicaragua; and the 2011 to present jihadist war to overthrow the Syrian government.

Not From Thin Air

Economic sanctions are commonly imposed by the U.S. in advance to “soften up” the target.

In non-military interventions, the U.S. does not create regime change out of whole cloth: it works with pre-existing dissent, whether in the population or in the military or another elite group. It will harness it, fund it, train it and organize it, but not create it.

In other words, in regime change that doesn’t involve invasion and occupation, it is not a question of either U.S. involvement or genuine dissent. It is almost always both.

And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar: there are legitimate revolts that are not taken over by the U.S. because the uprisings are against U.S. clients’ and Washington’s interests: for instance, the 2010 uprising in Bahrain. In such cases the U.S. will support crushing dissent (as it is ready to do at home as well).

Kazakhstan

Last week, Consortium News ran two pieces on the uprisings in Kazakhstan. The first, by Craig Murray, made the argument that the C.I.A. was not involved and that the uprising was genuine, given the country’s economic inequality and increases in fuel prices that were quickly reversed.

Murray is a former British ambassador to neighboring Uzbekistan and knows Central Asia. There is no doubt that inequality, the fuel price hikes and decades of authoritarian rule fueled the protests. But by its very covert nature, it is close to impossible to know what the C.I.A. is up to anywhere in the world until declassification of documents usually decades later, or if a whistleblower or leak emerges earlier.

Anyway, the C.I.A. did not need to be directly involved. It’s been known since at least a 1991 Washington Post article that the C.I.A. is ostensibly no longer required for regime change. After the 1975 Church Committee revelations of its crimes and corruption, the C.I.A., facing a public backlash, resorted to new methods. The establishment of the U.S. National Endowment of Democracy in 1983 does openly what the C.I.A. once did secretly, the Post argued. “The old era of [C.I.A.] covert action is dead,” Post columnist David Ignatius declared.

“The world doesn’t run in secret anymore. We are now living in the Age of Overt Action. … the triumph of overt action [is] a network of overt operatives who during the last 10 years have quietly been changing the rules of international politics. They have been doing in public what the CIA used to do in private — providing money and moral support for pro-democracy groups, training resistance fighters, working to subvert communist rule. And, in contrast to many of the CIA’s superannuated Cold Warriors, who tended to get tangled in their webs of secrecy, these overt operatives have been immensely successful.”

But as CN founder Robert Parry explained in an 2015 article republished today on Consortium News, the C.I.A. had a direct hand in the establishment of the NED, even in the writing of the Congressional legislation that authorized the U.S. Agency for International Development to fund it with U.S. government money. The continued hand of the C.I.A. was to be hidden in the “Age of Overt Action.”

The NED in Kazakhstan

Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1990 after the breakup of the Soviet Union the country has been run by one man, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Though he formally stepped down in 2019 in favor of his hand-picked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Nazarbayev is still the power behind the throne. Nursultan, the new capital city, was named after him in 2019.

Kazakhstan’s political system has few democratic features. Not that that matters much to the United States. In its long history of overthrowing governments abroad, the U.S. has toppled dictators just as readily as elected democrats. It is immaterial. What matters is whether leaders are furthering or standing in the way of U.S. interests.

The lack of democracy was of no interest either to former President Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who both cozied up to Nazarbayev for lucrative paydays. London and other Western centers have little problem taking investments from undemocratic Kazakh elites.

The lack of democracy in Kazakhstan could be useful to Washington. The population’s rage at being suppressed politically and economically is the kind of raw material needed to drive a coup from the bottom up.

In 2020, the NED spent $1,082,991 on 20 programs in Kazakhstan. One was $50,000 to “promote freedom of peaceful assembly” through “strategic litigation to support activists facing repression.” Another, for $65,000 was to “promote civic engagement among youth in Kazakhstan.”

Genuine Kazakh Revolt

This money was poured into a country with pre-existing tensions that exploded from Jan. 2 to Jan. 11, leaving 227 people dead, 9,900 arrested and vast sections of city centers looted and destroyed.

At the start the government tried to quell the protests by again capping fuel prices, the government resigned and Nazarbayev stepped down as chairman of the national security council. It didn’t work. Shoot to kill orders were issued against the rioters.

Ultimately, Russian troops as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization mission restored order. In a news analysis on Jan. 6, The New York Times Eastern Europe bureau chief made an unattributed, editorial comment: “And once Russian troops arrive, they seldom, if ever, go home.” Normally the corporate media are fed such lines by unnamed U.S. officials. In this case the U.S. government line seemed to work in reverse.

The next day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”

Moscow reacted furiously, pointing out that the U.S. should examine its history of the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq. “”If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped,” the foreign ministry said.

The Russian and other CSTO troops left Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

US Interests in Kazakhstan

Installing a government hostile to Russia and China, which both border Kazakhstan, would be advantageous to the U.S. It could disrupt China’s Silk Roads initiative through the country and the U.S. could put a military base in Kazakhstan. Since April the U.S. has been trying to find a Central Asian country for a base to further the encircling pressure on Russia. There are also oil and gas deposits beckoning.

Despite these interests, the second article that Consortium News ran last week advised the U.S. stay out of Kazakhstan. Saying there was no evidence of U.S. involvement with the protests, Anatol Lieven wrote:

“If the Kazakh government collapses or is gravely weakened, it would be very surprising if hard line elements in Washington did not see this as an opportunity to use Kazakhstan as a base to undermine Chinese rule in Sinkiang — even if (as in Syria) this led them into de facto alliance with Islamist extremist forces.

For America to use Kazakhstan in this way would be both a crime and a blunder, that would recall the worst aspects of U.S. policy in Africa, Asia, and Central America during the Cold War. It would in fact cast America in the role in which American commentators like to cast Russia — that of a cynical troublemaker, absolutely indifferent to the consequences of its actions for unfortunate populations on the ground.”

Circumstantial Evidence of the Causes

Was in fact the U.S. not involved in the uprising, as Lieven maintains?

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “The events in Kazakhstan are not the first and far from the last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our states from the outside.” He told other CSTO leaders on Jan. 10: “The measures taken by the CSTO made it clear that we would not let anyone destabilize the situation at our home and implement so-called ‘color revolution’ scenarios.”

Putin also said, “Elements of force and information support of protests were actively used, and well-organized and well-controlled groups of militants were also used … including those who had obviously been trained in terrorist camps abroad.”

The possible presence of jihadists followed reports that a Kazakh policemen had been beheaded.

The Kazakh government had a slightly different take, according to long-time Moscow correspondent Fred Weir, writing in the Christian Science Monitor:

“Kazakh leaders have offered a different explanation, pointing to high-ranking internal traitors who utilized the pretext of price increases to trigger protests, then unleashed specially trained armed units in an attempt to stage a coup d’état. At least one top former official, the recently dismissed head of the security services, Karim Masimov, has been arrested and charged with plotting against the state.

Other experts note that no movement has claimed responsibility for the uprising, and no set of unified demands or discernible leaders have emerged from the turmoil. That highly unusual circumstance is hard to square with an organized rebellion, Galym Ageleulov, head of the independent human rights group Liberty, told the Monitor from Almaty on Monday.

‘I think what happened was that a peaceful civil meeting of people who are tired of authoritarian government got used by elites in their internal struggles,’ he says. ‘It was a spontaneous upsurge without leaders because there is no permitted legal opposition, and civil activism is not able to grow.’ …

‘All the elements are there: socioeconomic tensions, elements of outside interference, and a half-completed transfer of power’ from the aging autocrat Mr. Nazarbayev to his chosen successor, Mr. Tokayev, [Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Russian foreign policy analyst] says. “’It is well known that some groups behind Nazarbayev were not happy with his choice. There is a feeling among many observers that it was not a purely spontaneous outburst.’”

Normally in regime change operations, the U.S. has a leader in exile ready to be installed. Mukhtar Ablyazov, leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, is in exile in Paris. He says he has not accepted Western money, asked for Western sanctions, which have not come, and egged on what he called the revolution unfolding in his country. He claimed Russia was “occupying” Kazakhstan, only to see the uprising end and Russian troops leave.

The beheadings, the organized nature of the uprising, the seizing of the airport, the NED funding, and the leader in exile are all circumstantial evidence of possible U.S. involvement. Many commenters on social media and on this site took the view that if it walks like a duck, it must be a U.S.-backed coup.

But journalism needs to be held to a higher standard of proof. CN rightly criticizes corporate media for repeating unnamed U.S. intelligence officials without skepticism. Skepticism must also be applied when the U.S. is accused of being involved in a coup. Circumstantial evidence is not enough. Even in an “Age of Overt Action” a smoking gun is needed, usually arriving with the declassification of documents that has proved the history of U.S. regime change.

In 2014 in Ukraine, there was also the circumstantial evidence of NED involvement. Then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland told the U.S.-Ukrainian Foundation on Dec. 13, 2013, that Washington had spent $5 billion over a decade to support Ukraine’s “European aspirations,” in other words to pull it away from Russia.

But there was also a smoking gun. It came in the form of the leaked telephone call between Nuland and the then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in which they discussed who the new Ukrainian leader would be, weeks before the coup occurred.

In Kazakhstan, despite the circumstantial evidence, there is no smoking gun so far. Therefore the question of whether there was direct and decisive U.S. involvement in the Kazakh uprising must remain inconclusive.


Source : Consortium News

What Do We Know So Far About the New NeoCoV Coronavirus Strain?

Chinese scientists have discovered that a NeoCoV strain of coronavirus, the closest relative of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), is capable, subject to mutation, of infecting people and therefore can be considered “a potential bio-safety threat” to humanity. Saying that, they underlined that the nature of NeoCoV “remains enigmatic.”

Here is what we know at the moment about the mysterious virus.

Where and how was the strain discovered?

The strain itself was known to scientists long before the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 strain, started. In 2014, the American Society for Microbiology published research dedicated to the then-emerging MERS-CoV, found in camels and later in hedgehogs. The paper says that the scientists “determined the full genome sequence of a CoV directly from fecal material obtained from a South African Neoromicia capensis bat (NeoCoV)” – to find out that 85% of the NeoCoV genome was identical to MERS-CoV. They concluded that while two strains belonged to “one viral species,” MERS-CoV had apparently emerged as a result of NeoCoV mutation, being passed from bats to camels. Several other studies later confirmed that the strains originated from the bats.

MERS-CoV, now identified by the World Health Organization as a likely cause of future pandemics, caused outbreaks in 21 countries in 2015.

How different are NeoCoV and SARS-CoV-2?

A 2020 research paper, published by the National Library of Medicine, indicates that NeoCoV is closer to MERS-CoV than SARS-CoV. The scientists also warned that NeoCoV may appear “in human-related infection.”

According to the bombshell preprint, published on Wednesday on the bioRxiv portal, NeoCoV “can efficiently use some types of bat Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and, less favorably, human ACE2 for entry.”

SARS-CoV-2 uses ACE2 to enter the human body, too, which means that the infection mechanism of the two strains, despite their differences, might be similar.

Does NeoCoV pose an imminent threat to humans?

According to the preprint’s authors, most of whom come from the notorious Wuhan university, in order to “efficiently” infect a human, the strain needs to mutate in a particular way. Currently NeoCoV is spreading only in bats.

The ability of coronaviruses to mutate and to transmit from animals to animals (as apparently was in the case of bats and camels) and from animals to humans is well known: another recent study, also conducted by Chinese scientists, showed that ‘the progenitor’ of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, now dominant in many countries, “jumped from humans to mice, rapidly accumulated mutations conducive to infecting that host, then jumped back into humans.”

In an interview with RT, immunologist Vladimir Bolibok explained that bats, “being a natural reservoir of a wide variety of coronavirus variants” have, like humans, their own coronaviruses which can transmit and mutate.
“Mutations can be dangerous if the structure of the spike proteins of the coronavirus can acquire an affinity for human proteins,” the doctor said.

According to the experts from the Russian Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology Vector, there is no reason to panic.

“At the moment, there is no talk about the emergence of a new coronavirus, ready to actively spread in the human population. The risks identified by Chinese experts are of a potential nature and require further study,” Vector’s statement reads, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

How dangerous might NeoCoV be?

The Chinese scientists warned of “a potential bio-safety threat” of the novel virus “with both high fatality and transmission rate.”

The fatality rate of the strain’s ‘closest relative’, MERS-CoV, stands at 34-35% since its emergence in 2012, which is much higher than SARS-CoV-2 with its 10% rate.

There is another factor which could make NeoCoV more dangerous.

“Notably, the infection could not be cross-neutralized by antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 or MERS-CoV,” the preprint reads.

What are the scientists’ recommendations?

The authors of the study underline that NeoCoV remains largely unexplored. Other scientists agree that further research is needed, as well as close monitoring of bats and other animals affected by MERS-CoV-related viruses “in order not to miss the moment.”

“Any infection that arises from nature and passes to humans is a concern, because with such a population density, as in cities in Southeast Asia, in China in particular, in European, American cities, any infection will spread like wildfire, if there is at least some contagiousness for a person,” Bolibok said.


Source : RT

AI Can Identify Heart Disease from an Eye Scan

Scientists have developed an artificial intelligence system that can analyse eye scans taken during a routine visit to an optician or eye clinic and identify patients at a high risk of a heart attack.

Doctors have recognised that changes to the tiny blood vessels in the retina are indicators of broader vascular disease, including problems with the heart.

In the research, led by the University of Leeds, deep learning techniques were used to train an AI system to automatically read retinal scans and identify those people who, over the following year, were likely to have a heart attack.

Deep learning is a complex series of algorithms that enable computers to identify patterns in data and to make predictions.

Writing in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence, the researchers report in their paper – Predicting Infarction through your retinal scans and minimal personal Information – that the AI system had an accuracy of between 70% and 80% and could be used as a second referral mechanism for in-depth cardiovascular examination.

The use of deep learning in the analysis of retinal scans could revolutionise the way patients are regularly screened for signs of heart disease.

Earlier identification of heart disease

Professor Alex Frangi, who holds the Diamond Jubilee Chair in Computational Medicine in the School of Computing at the University of Leeds and is a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, supervised the research. He said: “Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, are the leading cause of early death worldwide and the second-largest killer in the UK. This causes chronic ill-health and misery worldwide.

“This technique opens-up the possibility of revolutionising the screening of cardiac disease. Retinal scans are comparatively cheap and routinely used in many optician practices. As a result of automated screening, patients who are at high risk of becoming ill could be referred for specialist cardiac services.

“The system could also be used to track early signs of heart disease.”

The study involved a worldwide collaboration of scientists, engineers and clinicians from the University of Leeds; Leeds Teaching Hospitals’ NHS Trust; the University of York; the Cixi Institute of Biomedical Imaging in Ningbo, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the University of Cote d’Azur, France; the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Eye Institute, both part of the National Institutes for Health in the US; and KU Leuven in Belgium.

The UK Biobank provided data for the study.

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Leeds and a Consultant Cardiologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, was one of the authors of the research paper.

He said: “The AI system has the potential to identify individuals attending routine eye screening who are at higher future risk of cardiovascular disease, whereby preventative treatments could be started earlier to prevent premature cardiovascular disease.”

Deep learning

During the deep learning process, the AI system analysed the retinal scans and cardiac scans from more than 5,000 people. The AI system identified associations between pathology in the retina and changes in the patient’s heart.

Once the image patterns were learned, the AI system could estimate the size and pumping efficiency of the left ventricle, one of the heart’s four chambers, from retinal scans alone. An enlarged ventricle is linked with an increased risk of heart disease.

With information on the estimated size of the left ventricle and its pumping efficiency combined with basic demographic data about the patient, their age and sex, the AI system could make a prediction about their risk of a heart attack over the subsequent 12 months.

Currently, details about the size and pumping efficiency of a patient’s left ventricle can only be determined if they have diagnostic tests such as echocardiography or magnetic resonance imaging of the heart. Those diagnostic tests can be expensive and often only available in a hospital setting, making them inaccessible for people in countries with less well-resourced healthcare systems – or unnecessarily increasing healthcare costs and waiting times in developed countries.

Sven Plein, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Imaging at the University of Leeds and one of the authors of the research paper, said: “The AI system is an excellent tool for unravelling the complex patterns that exist in nature, and that is what we have found – the intricate pattern of changes in the retina linked to changes in the heart.”


Source: University of Leeds