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The Einstein Foundation Berlin is honoring the American physicist Paul Ginsparg and the Center for Open Science with the inaugural Einstein Foundation Award for Promoting Quality in Research. Paul Ginsparg is the founder of the preprint server arXiv.org, the ﬁrst platform to exchange scientiﬁc discoveries among scientists immediately, openly and globally without review- and paywall restrictions.
In developing arXiv.org, Ginsparg has laid the foundations for a revolution in scientiﬁc publishing as preprint servers are now commonly used in many scientiﬁc ﬁelds. They have been instrumental in supporting the rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Open Science has permanently transformed global research culture in recent years by providing scholars with the necessary tools and digital infrastructure to make open science the default. In the Early Career category, the award is presented to Jessica Kosie and Martin Zettersten to carry out their project ManyBabies5, a cross-cultural study on inﬂuential models in infant attention research.
The €500,000 Einstein Foundation Award for Promoting Quality in Research honors researchers and institutions whose work helps to fundamentally advance the quality of research ﬁndings. “We are delighted to honor Paul Ginsparg and the Center for Open Science with the inaugural Einstein Foundation Award. They have made substantial contributions to fostering research integrity and to improving transparency and accessibility,” explains Professor Martin Rennert, Chair of the Einstein Foundation. “The awardees perfectly embody the objective of the award: to strengthen conﬁdence in science by effectively promoting systematic research quality.”
The winners have been selected by a prestigious international, interdisciplinary jury. “The jury was impressed by the commitment the awardees had shown over many years to enhancing transparency, openness, and reliability in research, and by the idealism shaping their scientiﬁc work,” adds Dieter Imboden, the President of the Award Jury and former President of the Swiss National Science Foundation. Further members of the international jury in 2021 include President of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States Marcia McNutt, Executive Director of the Royal Society Julie Maxton, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics Al Roth, science historian Lorraine Daston, neuroscientist Alastair Buchan, philosophers Moshe Halbertal and Susan Neiman, computer scientist Michel Cosnard, psychologist Dorothy Bishop, economists Lena Lavinas and Edward Miguel, psycholinguist Suzy Styles, and World Bank social scientist Soazic Elise Wang Sonne.
The award, supported by the State of Berlin and generously funded by the Damp Foundation for a period of ten years, will be presented in three categories to individual researchers, institutions, and early career researchers. “We hope that the new award will help to bring about long-term cultural change in science and that scientiﬁc standards will receive even greater attention and recognition,” explains former Senator for Science and Research of the State of Berlin Jürgen Zöllner, outlining the Damp Foundation’s commitment to the award.
At the award ceremony on November 24, Melinda French Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will address the audience and call for stronger collaboration in the sciences: “Even the proudest researchers would admit that they cannot succeed on their own. It’s great that the Einstein Foundation Award is not just recognizing those who ﬁght disease or protect the planet, but also those who elevate the ﬁeld of research itself. Science needs institutional support. We can all do more to strengthen research and collaboration not just in the places we call home, but throughout the entire world.”
The Einstein Foundation Award ofﬁce is headed by the Founding Director of the QUEST Center at the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH), Ulrich Dirnagl. The QUEST (Quality, Ethics, Open Science, Translation) Center, the Max Planck Foundation and the publisher Nature Portfolio are supporting the Einstein Foundation in establishing the award.
About the award winners:
Individual Award - Paul Ginsparg, Cornell University
Paul Ginsparg is Professor of Physics and Information Science at Cornell University, USA. In 1991, he created the arXiv (“The Archive”), a document server for preprints, on which scientiﬁc ﬁndings are published without review and paywall restrictions. Preprint servers are online archives for scholarly publications which allow the scientiﬁc community to discuss and compare research ﬁndings immediately, transparently, openly, and globally. They also allow researchers to share original data, computer simulations, and other information. arXiv.org has set the standard for a number of these platforms in almost every scientiﬁc ﬁeld. Today, the portal holds almost two million scientiﬁc articles from the ﬁelds of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative ﬁnance, statistics, electrical engineering, systems science, and economics. Paul Ginsparg has been the driving force behind developing and maintaining the arXiv, pioneering the use of new technologies in automated quality control. The winner of the Individual Award receives €200,000.
Institutional Award - Center for Open Science
The Center for Open Science (COS) is a non-proﬁt organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Its mission is to increase the openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scientiﬁc research. It promotes these aims by coordinating and catalyzing communities and stakeholders to drive change in global culture and incentives that drive researchers’ behavior, the infrastructure that supports their research, and the business models that dominate scholarly communication. Through its Open Science Framework, COS is providing a toolbox to make the entire research process transparent, accessible, collaborative, and veriﬁable — from the initial ideas through to the ﬁnal research ﬁndings. The Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines, launched by COS in 2015 and signed by over 5,000 signatories, along with all of the major publishers, have initiated an overdue transformation in the publishing culture. The center is highly regarded by its more than 350,000 users, who work across the social and behavioral sciences, the life sciences, the natural sciences, and educational research. The winner of the Institutional Award category receives €200,000.
Early Career Award - ManyBabies5
Out of the four research projects that were shortlisted in the award’s Early Career category, the jury chose the project led by Jessica Kosie and Marten Zettersten. The team receives €100,000 to carry out its project ManyBabies5.
Jessica Kosie and Martin Zettersten (both from Princeton University, USA) are planning a large-scale and cross-cultural study on inﬂuential models in infant attention research. Current theories on this subject are largely only based on studies with a small number of participants, who are primarily from western industrialized countries. The ManyBabies5 team is a large-scale collaborative effort of more than 200 scientists from 122 laboratories in 40 countries on 6 continents. The overarching goal is to build a more robust and valid developmental science.
The Einstein Foundation Berlin is an independent, not-for-proﬁt, science-led organization established as a foundation under civil law. For over ten years, it has promoted international cutting-edge science and research across disciplines and institutions in and for Berlin. It has funded almost 200 researchers, including three Nobel laureates, over 70 projects, and seven Einstein Centers. The Damp Stiftung was established by Dr. Walter Wübben, the former majority owner of the Klinikgruppe Damp, to fund medical research and teaching as well as social projects. Besides supporting the Einstein Foundation Award, the Damp Stiftung also provides funding for the Einstein Foundation’s Einstein Strategic Professorships program.
https://www.einsteinfoundation.de/en/award/2021/ Livestream record of the online presentation of the inaugural Einstein Foundation Awards in three categories.
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‘It’s like you’re recapitulating the worst IE browser extensions and installing them by default’, grumbles one user
Microsoft is introducing a new feature in Edge allowing customers to pay for e-commerce transactions in instalments — and not everybody is happy.
The ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) feature is, controversially, integrated at the browser level, thanks to a partnership with third-party payments provider Zip, formerly QuadPay.
The option is similar to those already offered by many e-commerce sites and web payment providers such as PayPal.
It allows any purchase between $35 and $1,000 made through Microsoft Edge to be split into four payments over a six-week period.
The option appears at the point of checkout as an alternative to a credit or debit card number. Linking a Microsoft account to a Zip account will apparently make the purchase process quicker.
While the service is being promoted as ‘interest-free’, some were quick to point out that all transactions are subject to a “$4 ﬂat fee”.
The new buy now, pay later feature is currently available in Microsoft Edge Canary and Dev channels and, says Microsoft, will be available by default to all users in Microsoft Edge release 96, expected later this month.
The company is currently asking for feedback — but what it’s getting is far from positive.
Read more of the latest browser security news
“Please, please stop bloating the browser with these revenue grabs. It’s like you’re recapitulating the worst IE browser extensions from the 90s/00s and installing them by default,” one user said.
Some complain that it slows performance down, while one calls it a “predatory lending scheme”. Several suggest that the feature will damage Microsoft’s reputation.
Adam Fowler, a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP), tells The Daily Swig that he, too, is uncomfortable about the buy now, pay later scheme.
“Microsoft Edge is the browser that now comes with your Windows PC, and the gateway to the world wide web. Should that product, when detecting that you’re buying something and seeing a credit card ﬁeld, suggest that you could use another ﬁnancial service to spread the payments?” he asks.
“Surely the browser should stay agnostic to what you do and how you do it, instead of promoting certain services to take a cut. It’s worse than having a default homepage mixed with news and adverts, because it’s more intrusive and triggered when performing a certain contextual action.”
DEEP DIVES The future of browser security: Check out the latest features destined for mobile and desktop
Fowler agrees that the inclusion of the feature damages trust.
“For a business, Edge should be the browser that ties into your full Microsoft identity, securely saving what you do through proﬁle settings and favourites in the browser, but suggesting ﬁnancial services is not a trustworthy action,” he says.
“Where do you draw the line in advertising and promoting third-party services if Microsoft go ahead with this? There is a difference between using a search engine promoting ads based on keywords, versus the browser inserting extra ads on top of those ads. The browser shouldn’t change what you’re seeing on a web page for ﬁnancial gain.”
Microsoft has not responded to repeated requests for comment. Given the widespread condemnation of the feature, it may be reconsidering a full rollout — its deal with Zip permitting.
Check out the Microsoft Edge Insider blog post for further details on the BNPL scheme.
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Imagine being able to disconnect or redirect Internet trafﬁc destined for some of the world’s biggest companies — just by spoofing an email. This is the nature of a threat vector recently removed by a Fortune 500 ﬁrm that operates one of the largest Internet backbones.
Based in Monroe, La., Lumen Technologies Inc. [NYSE: LUMN] (formerly CenturyLink) is one of more than two dozen entities that operate what’s known as an Internet Routing Registry (IRR). These IRRs maintain routing databases used by network operators to register their assigned network resources — i.e., the Internet addresses that have been allocated to their organization.
The data maintained by the IRRs help keep track of which organizations have the right to access what Internet address space in the global routing system. Collectively, the information voluntarily submitted to the IRRs forms a distributed database of Internet routing instructions that helps connect a vast array of individual networks.
There are about 70,000 distinct networks on the Internet today, ranging from huge broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to many thousands of enterprises that connect to the edge of the Internet for access. Each of these so-called “Autonomous Systems” (ASes) make their own decisions about how and with whom they will connect to the larger Internet.
Regardless of how they get online, each AS uses the same language to specify which Internet IP address ranges they control: It’s called the Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP. Using BGP, an AS tells its directly connected neighbor AS(es) the addresses that it can reach. That neighbor in turn passes the information on to its neighbors, and so on, until the information has propagated everywhere .
A key function of the BGP data maintained by IRRs is preventing rogue network operators from claiming another network’s addresses and hijacking their trafﬁc. In essence, an organization can use IRRs to declare to the rest of the Internet, “These speciﬁc Internet address ranges are ours, should only originate from our network, and you should ignore any other networks trying to lay claim to these address ranges.”
In the early days of the Internet, when organizations wanted to update their records with an IRR, the changes usually involved some amount of human interaction — often someone manually editing the new coordinates into an Internet backbone router. But over the years the various IRRs made it easier to automate this process via email.
For a long time, any changes to an organization’s routing information with an IRR could be processed via email as long as one of the following authentication methods was successfully used:
-CRYPT-PW: A password is added to the text of an email to the IRR containing the record they wish to add, change or delete (the IRR then compares that password to a hash of the password);
-PGPKEY: The requestor signs the email containing the update with an encryption key the IRR recognizes;
-MAIL-FROM: The requestor sends the record changes in an email to the IRR, and the authentication is based solely on the “From:” header of the email.
Of these, MAIL-FROM has long been considered insecure, for the simple reason that it’s not difﬁcult to spoof the return address of an email. And virtually all IRRs have disallowed its use since at least 2012, said Adam Korab, a network engineer and security researcher based in Houston.
All except Level 3 Communications, a major Internet backbone provider acquired by Lumen/CenturyLink.
“LEVEL 3 is the last IRR operator which allows the use of this method, although they have discouraged its use since at least 2012,” Korab told KrebsOnSecurity. “Other IRR operators have fully deprecated MAIL-FROM.”
Importantly, the name and email address of each Autonomous System’s ofﬁcial contact for making updates with the IRRs is public information.
Korab ﬁled a vulnerability report with Lumen demonstrating how a simple spoofed email could be used to disrupt Internet service for banks, telecommunications ﬁrms and even government entities.
“If such an attack were successful, it would result in customer IP address blocks being ﬁltered and dropped, making them unreachable from some or all of the global Internet,” Korab said, noting that he found more than 2,000 Lumen customers were potentially affected. “This would effectively cut off Internet access for the impacted IP address blocks.”
The recent outage that took Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp ofﬂine for the better part of a day was caused by an erroneous BGP update submitted by Facebook. That update took away the map telling the world’s computers how to ﬁnd its various online properties.
Now consider the mayhem that would ensue if someone spoofed IRR updates to remove or alter routing entries for multiple e-commerce providers, banks and telecommunications companies at the same time.
“Depending on the scope of an attack, this could impact individual customers, geographic market areas, or potentially the [Lumen] backbone,” Korab continued. “This attack is trivial to exploit, and has a difﬁcult recovery. Our conjecture is that any impacted Lumen or customer IP address blocks would be ofﬂine for 24-48 hours. In the worst-case scenario, this could extend much longer.”
Lumen told KrebsOnSecurity that it continued offering MAIL-FROM: authentication because many of its customers still relied on it due to legacy systems. Nevertheless, after receiving Korab’s report the company decided the wisest course of action was to disable MAIL-FROM: authentication altogether.
“We recently received notice of a known insecure conﬁguration with our Route Registry,” reads a statement Lumen shared with KrebsOnSecurity. “We already had mitigating controls in place and to date we have not identiﬁed any additional issues. As part of our normal cybersecurity protocol, we carefully considered this notice and took steps to further mitigate any potential risks the vulnerability may have created for our customers or systems.”
KC Claffy is the founder and director of the Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), and a resident research scientist of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego. Claffy said there is scant public evidence of a threat actor using the weakness now ﬁxed by Lumen to hijack Internet routes.
“People often don’t notice, and a malicious actor certainly works to achieve this,” Claffy said in an email to KrebsOnSecurity. “But also, if a victim does notice, they generally aren’t going to release details that they’ve been hijacked. This is why we need mandatory reporting of such breaches, as Dan Geer has been saying for years.”
But there are plenty of examples of cybercriminals hijacking IP address blocks after a domain name associated with an email address in an IRR record has expired. In those cases, the thieves simply register the expired domain and then send email from it to an IRR specifying any route changes.
While it’s nice that Lumen is no longer the weakest link in the IRR chain, the remaining authentication mechanisms aren’t great. Claffy said after years of debate over approaches to improving routing security, the operator community deployed an alternative known as the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI).
“The RPKI includes cryptographic attestation of records, including expiration dates, with each Regional Internet Registry (RIR) operating as a ‘root’ of trust,” wrote Claffy and two other UC San Diego researchers in a paper that is still undergoing peer review. “Similar to the IRR, operators can use the RPKI to discard routing messages that do not pass origin validation checks.”
However, the additional integrity RPKI brings also comes with a fair amount of added complexity and cost, the researchers found.
“Operational and legal implications of potential malfunctions have limited registration in and use of the RPKI,” the study observed (link added). “In response, some networks have redoubled their efforts to improve the accuracy of IRR registration data. These two technologies are now operating in parallel, along with the option of doing nothing at all to validate routes.”
: I borrowed some descriptive text in the 5th and 6th paragraphs from a CAIDA/UCSD draft paper — IRR Hygiene in the RPKI Era (PDF).
Reviewing a historical Internet vulnerability: Why isn’t BGP more secure and what can we do about it? (PDF)
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The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if speciﬁc mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus. The TAG-VE was convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529. The B.1.1.529 variant was ﬁrst reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The ﬁrst known conﬁrmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021. This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing conﬁrmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage. There are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new ﬁndings with Member States and to the public as needed.Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron. As such, countries are asked to do the following: enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID. report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism. where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform ﬁeld investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-ﬁtting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.For reference, WHO has working definitions for SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Interest (VOI) and Variant of Concern (VOC). with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape; AND that has been identiﬁed as causing significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health. A SARS-CoV-2 VOC is a SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI (see above) and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance: increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; ORincrease in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; ORdecrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics
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I hope everyone in the States had a fantastic Thanksgiving (even if you’re a Dallas Cowboys football fan). I hate to ruin the holiday, but…We have a new variant. I’ve not seen this much anxiety ridden chatter among scientists about a COVID19 variant before. Even among the calm, cool, and collected scientists. This week we (epidemiologists and virologists) have been closely following a new COVID19 mutation. Three days ago it was designated the name B.1.1.529. As I write this, the WHO TAG team is convening. They are tasked to do three things:Review the evidence to determine if B.1.1.529 is, in fact, a threat; Classify whether the new variant is a “variant of interest” (in other words, hypothesize that this variant is a threat, but we don’t have the evidence yet) or a “variant of concern” (we have scientiﬁc evidence that this variant is a threat); Name the variant. The next Greek name in line is “Nu”.The name and classiﬁcation will hit the news cycle once WHO ofﬁcially announces. Whatever its name, this is what we know thus far…What is the B.1.1.529 variant? B.1.1.529 was ﬁrst discovered in Botswana on November 11. It was then quickly identiﬁed in South Africa three days later and identiﬁed in two cases in Hong Kong. This morning Israel and Belgium announced that they have cases. The Belgium case was a young, unvaccinated woman who developed ﬂu-like symptoms 11 days after travelling to Egypt via Turkey. She had no links to South Africa. This means that the virus is already circulating in communities. As of yesterday, 100 cases have been identiﬁed across the globe (mostly in South Africa). As I write this, no cases have been identiﬁed in the United States. B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations on the spike protein alone. This is an insane amount of change. As a comparison, Delta had 9 changes on the spike protein. We know that B.1.1.529 is not a “Delta plus” variant. The ﬁgure below shows a really long line, with no previous Delta ancestors. So this likely means it mutated over time in one, likely immunocompromised, individual (see my P.S. note at the end of the post). Nonetheless, we always pay attention to changes on the spike protein because the spike is the key into our cells. If the virus changes to become a smarter key, we need to know. We are particularly interested in mutations that could do any of the following:B.1.1.529 has the potential to do all three. We know this because we’ve seen a number of these mutations on other variants of concern (VOC), like Delta, Alpha, and Gamma. Dr. Jeffrey Barrett listed the mutations in a ﬁgure below. Each row represents a different mutation (32 total). The left hand column is the location of the change. The right hand column/color correspond to what we know (or don’t know) about the change. Red: This means bad. There are nine mutations on B.1.1.529 that we’ve seen in previous Variants of Concern (VOC). P681R is particularly bad news. Purple: These are new mutations (i.e. not seen in other VOC), but we have lab data to suggest they are a threat. Yellow: These probably mean something because of their location, but we don’t know what they mean yet. They have not been previously seen in VOCBlue: We’ve never seen these changes before. They may mean something or may mean nothing. We don’t know yet. We need more data. Green: This is a mutation that’s been present on all of the variants since early 2020. Not to be of concern. Of these, some mutations have properties to escape antibody protection (i.e. outsmart our vaccines and vaccine-induced immunity). There are several mutations association with increased transmissibility. There is a mutation associated with increased infectivity. This slide, from a presentation yesterday from the South Africa Health Ministry, summarized B.1.1.529 nicely. It will take weeks to understand what these new mutations mean or, more importantly, the combination of so many mutations. Keep in mind that the number of mutations does NOT always equal more severe. While these important lab studies are under way, we can watch carefully what’s happening in the “real world”. What we’re seeing in the real world? We know a lot about the Hong Kong cases because of their impeccable contact tracing. Health authorities published a report of these two cases yesterday. The ﬁrst case in Hong Kong was a 36 year old, fully vaccinated (two Pﬁzer doses in May/June 2021) male. He was traveling through South Africa from October 22 to November 11. Before returning to Hong Kong, he tested negative on a PCR. As per usual, once he landed in Hong Kong he was required to quarantine. On day 4 of quarantine (November 13), he tested positive on a PCR. Another guest across the hallway was also infected with B.1.1.529. He was Pﬁzer vaccinated in May/June 2021 too. In both of these rooms, 25 out of 87 swabs were positive for the virus. These Hong Kong cases tell us two things:Conﬁrms that COVID19 is airborne (we knew this)During their PCR tests, the viral loads were VERY high considering they were negative on previous PCR tests. They had a Ct value of 18 and 19 value. So, this tell us that B.1.1.529 is likely highly contagious. There are preliminary signs that B.1.1.529 is driving a new wave in South Africa. Health ofﬁcials are looking particularly at a region called Gauteng. In just one week, test positivity rate increased from 1% to 30%. This is incredibly fast.If we zoom out on South Africa as a whole, we see cases starting to exponentially increase. On Tuesday there were 868 cases, Wednesday there were 1,275 cases, Thursday there were over 3,500 cases. We do not know if these cases are all B.1.1.529, but the timing of explosive spread is suspect. The rate in which these cases are spreading are far higher than any previous variant. Disease modeling scientist Weiland estimated that B.1.1.529 is 500% more transmissible than the original Wuhan virus. (Delta was 70% more transmissible). John Burn-Murdoch (Chief Data Reporter at Financial Times) also found that B.1.1.529 is much more transmissible than Delta. He plotted the spread below. There is some good news though First, we can detect B.1.1.529 on a PCR test. This typically isn’t the case. Usually a swab would have to go to a special lab for genome sequencing to know which variant caused the infection. However, it looks like B.1.1.529 has a special signal like Alpha on the PCR directly. For example, when the PCR is positive it lights up two channels instead of three channels, indicating that it’s B.1.1.529. This is amazing news because it means we can track this virus much easier and much quicker around the world.Second, we caught this virus incredibly early. I can’t stress enough how amazing South Africa has been on communicating and taking hold of the situation. Because of their swift response, scientists around the world are already working together to decode this new threat. Early detection means that we have a surveillance system in place and it’s working.Third, if we need another vaccine, we can do this incredibly quickly. Thanks to the new biotechnology, mRNA vaccines are really easy to alter. Once the minor change is made, only 2 dozen people need to enroll in a trial to make sure the updated vaccine works. Then it can be distributed to arms. Because the change is small, an updated vaccine doesn’t need Phase III trials and/or regularity approval. So, this whole process should take a max of 6 weeks. We haven’t heard from Moderna or Pﬁzer if they’ve started creating an updated vaccine, but I guarantee conversations have started behind closed doors. Bottom Line: There’s still so much that we don’t know but what we do know is incredibly concerning. We are in a lull right now as we wait for scientiﬁc evidence to answer two questions as soon as possible: Does B.1.1.529 escape vaccines like we fear? Does B.1.1.529 continue to outcompete Delta like we’re seeing in South Africa? Once we have answers to these two questions, we’ll know the next step. Stay tuned. P.S. A few random thoughts I didn’t know where to put above:Travel bans are not evidence-based: It may seem like travel bans for individual countries are a necessary step, but I cannot stress enough that they do not work. For example, we had a travel ban with China in March 2020, only to be inﬁltrated with a European strain. Travel bans are a political move; a tool to show the public that the government is responding. Travel bans can do a lot of damage, though, like perpetuate disease related stigma. This variant has already spread. A travel ban is not an evidence-based solution unless you stop all travel from every country. Individual-level protection. None of this variant stuff changes what you need to do on an individual-level right now. Unless, of course, if you weren’t doing anything at all. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Ventilate spaces. Use masks. Test if you have symptoms. Isolate if positive. And encourage others to do the same. Immunocompromised: It looks like this variant has major implications of virus evolution in immunocompromised hosts. This underscores the need to ensure that immunocompromised people are protected by their communities. Not just for their sake, but for all of ours. “Your Local Epidemiologist (YLE)” is written by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH PhD— an epidemiologist, biostatistician, professor, researcher, wife, and mom of two little girls. During the day she has a research lab and teaches graduate-level courses, but at night she writes this newsletter. Her main goal is to “translate” the ever-evolving public health science so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions, rather than decisions based in fear. This newsletter is free thanks to the generous support of fellow YLE community members. To support the effort, please subscribe here:
Click here to read Part I about ongoing supply chain challenges facing port truckers in California.
Despite recent reports that congestion issues are easing on the water at California’s major ports, drayage truckers claim this isn’t the case for them — as long wait times, a ﬂawed appointment system and other efﬁciency issues continue to plague marine terminal operators in the state.
As Port of Oakland ofﬁcials are urging ocean carriers to add direct services to their port to help relieve supply chain bottlenecks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, truckers whose livelihoods depend on how many containers they can turn in a day are bracing for possible extra capacity if steamship lines skip Southern California and head to Oakland.
“All we hear in the news is the lack of congestion on the waterside and we can conﬁrm that, but we are drowning on the landside by long lines and stafﬁng issues at the terminals,” Bill Aboudi, president of AB Trucking, told FreightWaves this week.
An unreliable appointment system has drayage companies checking day and night to ﬁnd open slots and vessel schedule changes — which Aboudi compared to playing musical chairs — have truckers concerned they won’t be able to handle a container volume increase if some of these issues aren’t addressed soon.
A group of trucking company owners, each with about 30 years of drayage experience under their belts, are working with port ofﬁcials in Oakland to create a task force to air their grievances and open the lines of communications with marine terminal operators.
Robert Bernando, communications director at the Port of Oakland, conﬁrmed in an email to FreightWaves that a series of three meetings is planned between port truckers and the terminals “to discuss communications and operational guidelines.”
He didn’t provide additional information about possible dates for the task force except to note that “these meetings are not related to the California congestion issue” because the “Port of Oakland is not experiencing any port congestion.”
“Our operations are normal and wait times are normal (no delays),” Bernando told FreightWaves.
Recently, some truckers were lined up for 10 hours to grab containers from one of the terminals that couldn’t handle the inﬂux of trucks, even though the drivers had appointment times.
“I say the Port of Oakland is my port and I want more business coming here, but I’ve got to be able to handle it,” Aboudi said. “And right now, the terminal operators are holding all the cards and we’re not able to handle it, which makes us look inefﬁcient.”
The port truckers also want to discuss terminal operators’ ticketing and banning of drivers for 30 days to upward of 180 days for returning a chassis to the wrong equipment provider, failing to understand a security guard’s instructions or other minor infractions, night gate issues and other fees.
During a ﬁve-day trip to the major ports in California in late October, FreightWaves interviewed multiple company executives who disputed the widely reported message that a driver shortage was largely to blame for the port congestion issues in California.
Instead, company ofﬁcials said they were actually shedding drivers because of the lack of consistent work due to chokepoints, equipment and ongoing efﬁciency issues.
Truckers claim proposed solutions by port ofﬁcials and state and federal lawmakers to alleviate supply chain chokepoints in California largely miss the mark. One example is the recent announcement that the state plans to issue temporary permits to increase truck weight limits to 88,000 pounds — up from 80,000 pounds combined gross vehicle weight — on state highways to reduce container backlogs at the ports in California.
Since there’s no way to add cargo to shipping containers that were weighed and sealed overseas months ago to comply with U. S. highway weight limits, Aboudi and others question the effectiveness of the state’s attempt to reduce the immediate logjam at California’s ports.
“I just pulled a customer’s reefer container that’s been on the water for three months today so this 88,000-pound weight increase isn’t going to help them,” Aboudi told FreightWaves. “I know some customers are just receiving cargo they ordered from Asia back in June.”
Then there’s the issue of truckers getting permits from local jurisdictions to travel on certain roads and bridge weight restrictions throughout the state that could hinder efﬁciency efforts to haul heavier import loads from the ports.
“Do you think the government will move quickly to start issuing permits? I bet some don’t even know this executive order even exists,” Aboudi said.
The California Department of Transportation order would require truckers to ensure the gross weight of 88,000 pounds is distributed properly across the axles, which would mean adding additional axles to the truck and trailer in order to remain legal, Aboudi said.
“This would require specialty equipment — and adding an axle on 40-foot chassis that are already in high demand to handle these overweight containers would be a challenge,” he said. “Chassis makers can’t build them fast enough and now you’re asking for specialty equipment.”
Once truckers leave the terminals with these oversize containers, they risk being stopped by law enforcement before they can ﬁnd a nearby scale and weigh or a customer may underload the driver’s truck if unsure about the container’s exact weight.
“You face being overweight and having to keep going back and forth and having your truck unloaded and reloaded to be legal,” Aboudi said. “These are things that happen in trucking that you know just happens all with time and we deal with it. But it’s a pain.”
The president of a Southern California drayage company said the Lunar New Year, which starts Feb. 1, may be the recalibration the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach need to clear out the backlog as factories in China shut down for two weeks or more.
“The salvation I see is this is a time when we can hit the clock and we’ve got 30, 40, maybe 50 days to get the congestion out and reset the game board to zero,” the company executive, who didn’t want to be identiﬁed for fear of retaliation by terminal operators, told FreightWaves.
The executive ramped up operations to 18 drivers during the pandemic to handle the e-commerce boom as consumers’ spending habits changed from shopping at brick-and-mortar stores to online. He’s since had to shave a few owner-operators and a company driver from his payroll since mid-October in an effort to keep his business aﬂoat.
While he and other drayage companies expanded operations to accommodate increased e-commerce, the ports and terminal operators in California did not develop a long-term infrastructure plan to handle the massive container volume surge.
“We can all see and feel that the supply chain is teetering on the edge. You can feel it because you’re paying more everywhere,” the drayage company executive said. “But in February, if we don’t clear out the congestion and we still have 80 vessels offshore and the next peak season merges with the current one, there’s no way out.”
Click for more articles by Clarissa Hawes.
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