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Einstein Foundation to present the inaugural €500,000 Award for Promoting Quality in Research

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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Mapa de BFCM de Shopify en tiempo real

Se abre en una ven­tana nue­vaAbre un sitio web ex­terno en una nueva ven­tana

Para mover el globo, uti­liza el ratón, el panel tác­til o las teclas de flecha.

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Mappa live del BFCM di Shopify

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Microsoft pushes ahead with controversial ‘buy now, pay later’ feature for Edge browser

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.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE Microsoft fixes re­flected XSS in Exchange Server

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The Internet is Held Together With Spit & Baling Wire

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 [1].

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.”

[1]: 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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Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529)

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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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New Concerning Variant

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:

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California port truckers ‘drowning’ in supply chain inefficiencies

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.

Truckers tired of tak­ing blame for con­ges­tion cri­sis at California ports

Trucking trade group to Gov. Newsom: Enforce law on port fees

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