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Three Big Things

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  • Wuhan scientists wanted to release coronaviruses into bats

    Chinese scientists wanted to genetically engineer coronaviruses that were more infectious to humans and then conduct experiments on live bats about 18 months before the first COVID-19 cases emerged — but a US Department of Defence agency rejected the funding proposal, leaked documents reveal.

    Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were planning to genetically enhance airborne coronaviruses and release aerosols containing “novel chimeric spike proteins” among cave bats in Yunnan, China, according to the 2018 proposal submitted to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  

    They also planned to alter coronaviruses to infect humans more easily by introducing “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses.

    The purpose of the research was to assess the risk of coronaviruses, work on ways to prevent outbreaks and even vaccinate bats against the virus, according to the proposal.

    The proposal was spearheaded by New York City-based EcoHealth Alliance — the nonprofit headed by British scientist Peter Daszak that has previously funneled federal funds to the Wuhan lab for bat coronavirus research.

    But the $14 million grant ended up being rejected by DARPA over fears it could result in gain-of-function research, which could make a virus more transmissible and pathogenic.

    “It is clear that the proposed project led by Peter Daszak could have put local communities at risk,” DARPA said in rejecting the proposal.

    Details of the leaked proposal were released Tuesday by Drastic Research, a group of international scientists investigating the origins of the pandemic.

    Drastic said it was provided the papers by a whistleblower, and a former member of the Trump administration confirmed the proposal’s authenticity to the Telegraph.

    The group questioned whether the research — particularly altering the virus to make it more infectious to humans — still went ahead given the theory that COVID-19 spread from the Wuhan lab.

    “Given that we find in this proposal a discussion of the planned introduction of human-specific cleavage sites, a review by the wider scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted,” Drastic said.

    It comes one week after a group of GOP lawmakers called for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to subpoena Dr. Anthony Fauci on the origins of COVID-19.

    In a letter sent to Pelosi on Sept. 14, they said they have unsuccessfully attempted to seek information from multiple officials about the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funding that they believe may have been used for gain-of-function research. Fauci is NIAID’s director.

    The group argued that the information was critical for providing oversight and gaining information to prevent future pandemics, noting that the intelligence community’s report on the deadly virus’ origin was inconclusive.

    Fauci was earlier accused by critics of lying after separate documents appeared to contradict his claims that the National Institutes of Health did not fund gain-of-function research at the same Wuhan lab. NIAID is part of the NIH.

    The documents, obtained by the Intercept, detailed other grants given to EcoHealth Alliance.

    Fauci has repeatedly insisted that NIH funding of the Wuhan lab does not constitute gain-of-function research.

    The grant proposal included in the documents was for a project titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” which involved screening thousands of bat samples, as well as people who worked with live animals, for novel coronaviruses, the outlet said.

    The $3.1 million grant was awarded for a five-year period between 2014 and 2019. After the funding was renewed in 2019, it was suspended by the Trump administration in April 2020.

    The grant directed $599,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for bat coronavirus research.

    Wuhan scientists wanted to release coronaviruses into bats (nypost.com)

  • Four Marines wounded in Kabul blast still hospitalized

    Almost a month after the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, four US Marines wounded in the attack remain hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to a report.

    One of the Marines is in “very serious but stable condition,” while the others are in “serious but stable condition,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Johnny Henderson told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.

    Their identities and the nature of their injuries have not been released, according to the military branch’s protocol.

    The numbers of hospitalized Marines are down from Sept. 7, when 15 were being treated at Walter Reed, one of whom was in critical condition, three others in serious condition and 11 stable, according to the military newspaper.

    Thirteen US service members — 11 Marines, an Army soldier and a Navy corpsman — were killed Aug. 26 when an ISIS-K member set off the bomb outside the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital of Afghanistan.

    More than 20 US troops were wounded in the attack, including 17 Marines.

    At least 169 Afghans also were killed in the blast amid the chaotic Biden administration troop withdrawal. The American troops were processing would-be evacuees to be flown out of the country following the Taliban takeover.

    US Marines wounded in Kabul airport attack still in hospital (nypost.com)

  • Draft bill closes 5 prisons, leaves fate of others to be determined

    By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

    The prison construction bill the Alabama Legislature will consider in next week’s special session expressly closes five prisons in the state, but leaves the futures of others up to decision makers at a later date.

    Men’s facilities Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Center, Staton, Elmore and Kilby and the Julia Tutwiler women’s prison would be closed under the bill in its current draft form.

    The prison plan’s first phase includes two new 4,000-bed prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties and allows the state to borrow up to $785 million for their construction. Phase two includes a new women’s prison, though there’s no dedicated funding for that project in the bill. The Limestone prison and Donaldson in Jefferson County would be renovated or possibly rebuilt, as would either Ventress or Easterling in Barbour County or the Bullock County prison.

    The bill does not mention the futures of four other sites — Bibb, Fountain, Holman and St. Clair. Holman houses the state’s death row inmates and execution facilities. Last year, ADOC announced it was moving most prisoners from the site after major failures in the electrical and sewer systems there. St. Clair has been one of the deadliest prisons in recent years.

    Their future will be determined later, said Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, who will likely sponsor the bill in the Senate.

    Albritton said the closure of some prisons may still be a sticking point in gathering support for the bill. He said his preference would have been not to list any prisons for closure in the bill.

    Ventress, Bullock and Easterling prisons are all in Sen. Billy Beasley’s southeast Alabama district. In the past, he opposed proposals to close prisons that employ his constituents and were built decades ago when he said local communities recruited the prisons as economic development opportunities.

    He said municipalities with prison systems have invested a lot of money in infrastructure to support them, including water systems.

    “They have invested a lot of money to make sure they can provide the services to these facilities and I want the towns to be protected,” Beasley, D-Clayton, said.

    He said he’ll bring an amendment to the bill so that municipalities aren’t financially hurt by closing prisons.

    Meanwhile, Beasley said he wants Alabama prisons to be safer for inmates and staffers, but he’s not sure building two more than twice the size of what the state operates now is the way to do that. 

    “I just honestly believe that we don’t need to build mega prisons,” Beasley said Tuesday. More ADOC officers and safety upgrades would be his priority, he said.

    The Hamilton facility, with about 76 inmates as of July, is in Sen. Larry Stutts’ district.

    “There is going to be some debate over which prisons stay open and which get closed,” Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said earlier this month.

    He said the facility for the state’s oldest inmates and those with serious health conditions is a low risk to the community.

    He called the draft bill a good start and said he thinks Marion County would be a great place for a possible third new men’s prison in phase three of the bill.

    The third phase of construction under the bill includes an “evaluation of men’s prison facilities based on a current facilities assessment and inmate population trends to determine if additional facility beds need to be replaced.” It also includes the possible construction of a third men’s prison.

    Albritton said the prisons not closed under the bill could be kept open or transferred to other entities, including county jails or community colleges.

    “There are several options, the question is, what’s going to make the most sense in another six or eight years.”

    Draft bill closes 5 prisons, leaves fate of others to be determined - Alabama Daily News (aldailynews.com)

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