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China’s Mojiang mine and its role in the origins of COVID-19

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China’s Mojiang mine and its role in the origins of COVID-19

SHANGHAI – Top US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has urged China to release information about six laborers who fell ill after working in a mine in Yunnan province in 2012 and are now seen as a key part of efforts to find the origins of COVID-19. 

The workers, ages 30 to 63, were scrubbing a copper seam clean of bat feces in April 2012. Weeks later, they were admitted to a hospital in the provincial capital of Kunming with persistent coughs, fevers, head and chest pains and breathing difficulties. Three eventually died.  

The mine is in Mojiang in southwest China, about 932 miles from Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first identified.

What do we know about the six mine workers?

Though the full biographical details of the six workers have not been released, their surnames, ages and medical records were published in a 2013 thesis written by a Kunming Medical University postgraduate student named Li Xu.

Li’s study, still available on China’s scientific paper archive at cnki.net, examines each patient’s symptoms and concludes they were victims of a “SARS-like” coronavirus contracted from horseshoe bats. 

Scientists returning to the mine at the end of 2012 found samples of a pathogen that came to be known as the “Mojiang virus”, found in rats and unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. Subsequent research was unable to confirm whether it caused the miners’ illness.

According to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Shi Zhengli, China’s top bat coronavirus researcher, the workers’ pneumonia-like symptoms were caused by a fungal infection. Shi and her team also said in research published last November that they had retested 13 serum samples from four of the patients and found no sign they had been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Why are cases in the public eye?

Since the middle of last year, Li’s postgraduate thesis has been circulated online as purported evidence that a coronavirus very similar to SARS-CoV-2 could have been infecting humans as early as 2012. 

Some also believe the paper provides circumstantial evidence for broader allegations that WIV had captured, studied and conducted “gain of function” experiments on viruses found in the mine, including RaTG13.

First identified in 2016, RaTG13 shares 96.2 percent of its genome with SARS-CoV-2, according to a paper released by Shi and other researchers early in February 2020, just weeks after the first COVID-19 cases had been identified in Wuhan. 

What other viruses were found in the mine?

From 2012 to 2015, WIV researchers identified as many as 293 coronaviruses in and around the mine.

The institute in November 2020 disclosed the existence of eight other “SARS-type” coronavirus samples taken from the site.

In a preprint last month, Shi and other researchers said none of the eight was a closer match to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13. Crucially, none of them possessed the key receptor binding domain that allows SARS-CoV-2 to infect humans so efficiently.

The paper concluded that “the experimental evidence cannot support” claims that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from the lab and called for “more systematic and longitudinal sampling of bats, pangolins or other possible intermediate animals” to better understand where the pandemic originated.  

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Europe carbon prices expected to soar amid tougher climate goals

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Steam rises from the cooling towers of the coal power plant of RWE, one of Europe's biggest electricity and gas companies in Niederaussem, Germany, March 3, 2016.

LONDON – Carbon prices in the European Union’s emissions trading system are expected to rise significantly in the next decade due to tougher climate goals, market participants said in an industry survey published on Monday.

The EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) is the largest carbon market in the world, covering around 45% of the bloc’s output of greenhouse gases and charging emitters for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

The survey by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) found members expect carbon prices in the EU ETS to average $57 a tonne between 2021 and 2025 and $71.06 a tonne between 2026 and 2030.

This is mainly due to a tougher EU goal of cutting emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

Last year’s survey predicted an average price of 31.71 euros a tonne for the third phase of the ETS which runs from 2021 to 2030. Benchmark prices in the ETS currently trade around $64.24 a tonne.

Britain’s domestic emissions trading scheme started trading in May this year. The majority of survey respondents expect it will link with the EU scheme by 2023.

Participants anticipate that the average global carbon price needed by 2030 to put the world on track to meet goals to curb global temperature rise is $76.61 a tonne, up from last year’s expectation of $67.84 a tonne.

IETA’s members include banks, exchanges and energy and industrial firms. The association received responses from 158 member representatives for the survey.

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

I’ve been out of the job market for years, caring for an elderly relative who recently passed. How do I explain this big gap, and how do I make myself relevant? I used to work in a bank, but the job I did is basically obsolete now.

I’m going to tell you what you already know. The job search is hard enough for people with jobs, so transitioning back after being away is that much more difficult. I say this not to discourage you but to prepare you. “More difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible.” You have to prepare differently so that you can overcome the challenge. Your first goal is to just get back into the workforce and not try to pick up where you left off in the same job at the same level. It’s far easier to navigate your way to the job you want over time while you are employed. Make sure your skills are up to date by taking online courses. Stay positive, be persistent, flexible and leverage your contacts. As for explaining the gap, just tell the truth. It has the benefit of being true, and people can relate.

A friend of mine was told she could work remotely full time but has to take less money. Is that lawful?

Oh, the old “asking for a friend” routine. No worries, your secret is safe with me, and it’s not like your question is so unique that your “friends” will know it’s you. Basically, unless your employment is governed by some contract or collective-bargaining agreement, the terms of employment are between you and your employer and subject to change at the discretion of your employer, including compensation, responsibilities and work arrangements. Many employers and employees are considering the trade-offs for working remotely and the savings in the form of reduced office space and commuting expenses, respectively. For many employees, it includes more flexibility, too. You can choose to accept the new arrangements, or decline and continue with your current ones. If your employer isn’t offering you an option and you decline, you should be eligible for whatever layoff benefits the company provides, as well as unemployment benefits. I hope this works out for your “friend.”

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com.

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald’s fries

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald's fries

Next time you savor a McDonald’s french fry, remember to thank Bill Gates for the tasty spud.

As reported in The Post, the soon-to-be single computer magnate happens to own more farmland than anyone else in the United States. Known for loving fast food — although his burger of choice comes from the Washington-based chainlet Burgermaster — Gates, according to NBC News, grows potatoes for McDonald’s in fields so vast they can be scoped from outer space.

Although Gates has focused his energies on saving our climate, he has made clear that the tater patches are strictly money-making operations.

“My investment group chose to do this,” stated Farmer Bill during an AMA on Reddit. “It is not connected to climate.”

Considering that Gates is said to own 269,000 acres of fertile land in 18 states, it’s easy to imagine him keeping track of it all on some souped-up series of spreadsheets. If so, gangs of divorce lawyers — including some who worked on the Jeff Bezos bust-up — have surely been scrutinizing the potato haul. Gates, the fourth-richest person in the world, married his impending ex, Melinda, without a prenuptial agreement, so they will be splitting property via a so-called “separation contract.”

No word on whether or not she will soon reign as McDonald’s potato queen.

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