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Daily Archives: June 15, 2022

Chart: Average Annual Inflation Rate of 30 Countries YoY Rose to 9.5% in May 2022

7 times the previous 5-year average before COVID-19

Source : Nikkei

Chart: Japanese Yen Down Under 135 to 24-year Low

Source : Nikkei

Mid-week Humour: News in Cartoons

WHO: COVID Origins Unclear But Lab Leak Theory Needs Study

Maria Cheng and Jamey Keaten wrote . . . . . . . . .

Over two years after the coronavirus was first detected in China, and after at least 6.3 million deaths have been counted worldwide from the pandemic, the World Health Organization is recommending in its strongest terms yet that a deeper probe is required into whether a lab accident may be to blame.

That stance marks a sharp reversal of the U.N. health agency’s initial assessment of the pandemic’s origins, and comes after many critics accused WHO of being too quick to dismiss or underplay a lab-leak theory that put Chinese officials on the defensive.

WHO concluded last year that it was “extremely unlikely” COVID-19 might have spilled into humans in the city of Wuhan from a lab. Many scientists suspect the coronavirus jumped into people from bats, possibly via another animal.

Yet in a report released Thursday, WHO’s expert group said “key pieces of data” to explain how the pandemic began were still missing. The scientists said the group would “remain open to any and all scientific evidence that becomes available in the future to allow for comprehensive testing of all reasonable hypotheses.”

Identifying a disease’s source in animals typically takes years. It took more than a decade for scientists to pinpoint the species of bats that were the natural reservoir for SARS, a relative of COVID-19.

WHO’s expert group also noted that since lab accidents in the past have triggered some outbreaks, the highly politicized theory could not be discounted.

Jean-Claude Manuguerra, a co-chair of the 27-member international advisory group, acknowledged that some scientists might be “allergic” to the idea of investigating the lab leak theory, but said they needed to be “open-minded” enough to examine it.

The report could revive accusations that WHO initially was too accepting of Chinese government explanations early in the outbreak, which ultimately killed millions of people, sickened millions more, forced dozens of countries into lockdown and upended the world economy.

Investigations by The Associated Press found that some top WHO insiders were frustrated by China during the initial outbreak even as WHO heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping. They were also upset over how China sought to clamp down on research into the origins of COVID-19.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speculated repeatedly — without evidence — that COVID-19 was started in a Chinese lab. He also accused WHO of “ colluding” with China to cover up the initial outbreak, citing the U.N. health agency’s continued public praise of the country despite China’s refusal to share crucial data.

WHO’s expert group said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sent two letters to senior Chinese government officials in February requesting information, including details about the earliest human cases of COVID-19 in the city of Wuhan. It’s unclear whether the Chinese responded.

The experts said no studies were provided to WHO that assessed the possibility of COVID-19 resulting from a laboratory leak.

Jamie Metzl, who sits on an unrelated WHO advisory group, has suggested that the Group of Seven industrialized nations set up their own COVID origins probe, saying WHO lacks the political authority, expertise and independence to conduct such a critical evaluation.

Metzl welcomed WHO’s call for a further investigation into the lab leak possibility but said it was insufficient.

“Tragically, the Chinese government is still refusing to share essential raw data and will not allow the necessary, full audit of the Wuhan labs,” he said. “Gaining access to this information is critical to both understanding how this pandemic began and preventing future pandemics.”

In Washington, a Republican-led subcommittee in the House of Representatives on the COVID-19 pandemic tweeted: “Americans were smeared as ‘conspiracy theorists’ for asking whether #COVID19 came from a lab leak. Now, the WHO is asking the same questions.”

“WE NEED ANSWERS,” added the committee, which is headed by Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

WHO’s expert scientists said numerous avenues of research were needed, including studies evaluating the role of wild animals, and environmental studies in places where the virus might have first spread, like the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.

In March 2021, WHO released a report about COVID-19′s origins following a highly choreographed visit by international scientists to China. The report concluded that the disease most likely jumped into humans from bats and that there was no evidence to suggest there was a connection to a laboratory.

Yet after considerable criticism, including from some scientists on WHO’s team, the agency’s director acknowledged that it was “ premature ” to rule out a lab leak.

In its new report, WHO said the experts were given access to data that included unpublished blood samples from more than 40,000 people in Wuhan in 2019. The samples were tested for COVID-19 antibodies. None were found, suggesting the virus was not spreading widely before it was first identified in late December that year.

WHO’s experts called for numerous studies to be done, including testing wild animals to find which species might host COVID-19. They also said the “cold chain” supply theory should be probed. China has previously advanced the idea that traces of COVID-19 on frozen packaging was causing outbreaks rather than any domestic source, a theory widely panned by outside scientists.

To investigate whether COVID-19 might have been the result of a lab accident, WHO’s experts said interviews should be conducted “with the staff in the laboratories tasked with managing and implementing biosafety and biosecurity.”

China has called the suggestion that COVID-19 began in a laboratory “ baseless ” and countered that the virus originated in American facilities, which were also known to be researching coronaviruses in animals. The Chinese government has said it supports the search for the pandemic’s origins, but that other countries should be the focus.

In a footnote to the report, WHO’s group noted that three of its own experts — scientists from China, Brazil and Russia — disagreed with the call to investigate the possibility of COVID-19 being sparked by a lab accident.

Scientists connected to WHO lamented in August 2021 that the search for the pandemic’s origins had stalled and that the window of opportunity was “closing fast.” They warned that collecting data that was now at least two years old was increasingly difficult.

Source : AP

Chart: Global YoY Inflation in May 2022

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Deutsche Bank

Could Milk Raise a Man’s Odds for Prostate Cancer?

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

Men who drink lots of milk may be more likely to develop prostate cancer than men who don’t, new research finds.

When compared to men who consumed just 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk every day, men who drank about 1-3/4 cups of milk daily were about 27% more likely to develop prostate cancer, a new study showed.

What’s more, they had about a 60% increased risk for developing prostate cancer compared with men who steered clear of dairy altogether.

The new study wasn’t designed to say how, or even if, milk consumption ups the risk for prostate cancer, but researchers have their theories.

“Insulin-like growth factor-1 is known to be a risk factor for prostate and breast cancer, and it turns out that dairy consumption raises the level of this hormone,” said study author Dr. Gary Fraser. He is a professor of preventive medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and School of Public Health in California.

Prostate cancer needs hormones to grow, and there are other hormones found in cow’s milk, too, he said. Fraser and colleagues previously published similar findings linking dairy to breast cancer.

“This issue needs a little more clarity before we conclude that there is a causal link, but there could be, and if you had a bad family history of prostate cancer, I would be inclined to go on a plant-based diet now,” Fraser said.

Plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk include soy, oat, almond, cashew and other nondairy milks. These nondairy calcium sources did not increase prostate cancer risk in the new study.

For the study, the researchers asked more than 28,700 men about their diets. A handful of men were also asked to recall all the food and drinks that they consumed in the previous 24 hours.

None of the men had prostate cancer when the study began, but 1,254 men developed prostate cancer after about eight years of follow-up. Researchers created a statistical model to control for other factors that could affect the results, including family history of prostate cancer, race or age.

Milk consumption increased the risk for all types of prostate cancer, including the more aggressive form.

The increase in risk for prostate cancer was directly tied to low- or regular-fat milk, not yogurt or cheese, and this increase plateaued after about two-thirds of a cup of milk each day, Fraser said.

The study did have its share of limitations. Asking people to recall what they ate isn’t always the most reliable method of gathering information.

The research is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Outside experts aren’t ready to say that milk increases prostate cancer risk.

It’s too early to draw that conclusion, said Dr. Otis Brawley, a professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“We do know that obesity, consuming too many calories, and not getting enough exercise increases the risk of aggressive prostate cancer,” Brawley said.

The best way to stay one step ahead of prostate cancer is to maintain a normal body weight, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet with five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, he said.

Dr. Andrew Laccetti, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Montvale, N.J., agreed.

“Although this study does not definitely suggest that dairy directly causes an increase in prostate cancer risk, it does fit with the broader understanding that prostate cancer is a disease of Western nations,” he said.

“A Western lifestyle, including diets rich in saturated fats, sedentary behavior and obesity, exhibits convincing evidence to support an association with the development of prostate cancer,” Laccetti noted.

Source: HealthDay

Chinese Households Are Bracing for a Downturn by Saving More This Year

Jane Li wrote . . . . . . . . .

China’s citizens, who already have a reputation of being savvy savers, are saving even more amid uncertain economic prospects.

Chinese household savings grew by 7.86 trillion yuan ($1.2 trillion) between January and May, an increase of more than 50% from the same period last year, according to China’s central bank. In May alone, renminbi savings accounts in China added 3.04 trillion yuan, which was 475 billion yuan more than the same month last year, said the bank.

The explosion of savings in the first five months of this year was also affected by other factors: people depositing their year-end bonuses, and lockdowns in several cities hindering their ability to spend. But the fast growth of savings also reflects a smaller appetite for risk. In a telling sign, during the first five months of 2020, when the pandemic was ravaging the country, China’s household savings grew by 6 trillion yuan, lower than the amount seen this year. People are growing increasingly risk-averse, as China’s prolonged lockdowns combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and corresponding high oil prices feed worries about imminent recessions.

Chinese consumers are anxious about the future of their economy

“The pandemic situation in both 2020 and 2022 has led to big increases in household savings rate,” Shanwen Gao, the chief economist of Essence Securities, wrote in a note (link in Chinese) in May. “Part of this comes from an increase in unwilling savings, as the pandemic hinders consumption; the other part meanwhile comes from a rise in precautionary savings, which reflects residents’ concerns about uncertainty.” Gao thinks that the surge in savings this year, amid the new waves of covid-19, has been channeled into deposits, fixed income, and debt reduction, where citizens use savings to repay their liabilities and pre-pay mortgages. In contrast, in early 2020, people directed their savings into stock and property markets “This reflects the shaken confidence of residents in job security and future income,” Gao wrote.

Despite recovering from the pandemic relatively quickly in the past two years, China’s insistence on a zero-covid policy has damaged its economy deeply. On-and-off lockdowns in major cities including Shanghai have hindered business operations and shattered consumer confidence, while rising unemployment rates and mass layoffs in the once red-hot tech sector are also leading to more pessimism among citizens. Meanwhile, two-thirds of China’s 70 major cities saw their new home prices drop in April, compared with 38 cities in March, pointing to further danger of shrinking wealth of Chinese families, which count property as a major asset.

Naturally, without any clear deadline for zero-covid measures from the Chinese government, people are holding tight to their wallets. A rising propensity to save could mean that China’s already sluggish consumption, which saw retail sales plunge by 11% in April, will slow further for the rest of the year. Despite many cities’ recent embrace of using consumption vouchers and digital yuan subsidies to spur spending, these measures are seen by experts as far from being enough, as the hand outs only account for around 0.01% of some city’s GDP.

Source : QUARTZ