Raccoon dogs have been linked to the origins of COVID in a new study suggesting the pandemic may have emanated from animals and not a laboratory leak.
International scientists identified the dogs’ DNA mixed with the virus from genetic material collected at a market near where the first human cases were detected in China in late 2019.
Samples were taken in early 2020 from surfaces at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan and the genetic sequences were recently uploaded by China to the world’s largest public virus database.
The sequences were then removed but not before a French biologist spotted the information by chance and shared it with a group of scientists based outside China, who were looking into the coronavirus’ origins.
Data showed some samples, which were known to be positive for the coronavirus, also contained genetic material from raccoon dogs, indicating the animals may have been infected by the virus, the experts said.
Last month, the US Energy Department said the virus most likely leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan.
The World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the latest data findings do not provide a definitive answer on how the pandemic first began but stated “every piece of data is important to moving us closer to that answer”.
The WHO has criticised China for not sharing the genetic information earlier and said it should have been provided three years ago.
The international group also told the WHO they found DNA from other animals as well as raccoon dogs in the samples from the seafood market.
“There’s molecular evidence that animals were sold at Huanan market and that is new information,” said WHO’s COVID technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove.
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Stephen Goldstein, a virologist at the University of Utah, who was involved in analysing the data, said: “There’s a good chance that the animals that deposited that DNA also deposited the virus.”
And Mark Woolhouse, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Edinburgh, said if analysis shows the animal viruses have earlier origins than the ones that infected people, “that’s probably as good evidence as we can expect to get that this was a spillover event in the market”.
After a weeks-long visit to China to study the pandemic’s origins, the WHO released a report in 2021 concluding COVID most probably jumped to humans from animals, dismissing the possibility of a lab origin as “extremely unlikely”.
But the UN health agency backtracked the following year, saying “key pieces of data” were still missing. And in recent months, Mr Tedros has said all hypotheses remained on the table.
The China CDC scientists, who previously analysed the market samples, published a paper as a preprint in February suggesting humans brought the virus to the market, not animals – implying COVID originated elsewhere.
Gao Fu, the former head of the Chinese CDC and lead author of the Chinese paper, told Science Magazine the sequences are “nothing new, it had been known there was illegal animal dealing and this is why the market was immediately shut down”.
Russia says it scrambled fighter jet to intercept two US bombers over Baltic Sea
A Russian Su-35 fighter jet was scrambled to intercept two US strategic bombers over the Baltic Sea, Russia’s defence ministry has said.
“Two air targets flying in the direction of the state border of the Russian Federation” were detected by radar on Monday, it said in a statement on the social media platform Telegram.
The aircraft were identified as two US Air Force B-52 strategic bombers “flying in the direction of the Russian Federation’s state border”.
A Su-35 fighter jet took to the air to prevent a border violation, the ministry continued.
“After the foreign military aircraft moved away from the Russian Federation state border, the Russian fighter returned to its base airfield,” it added.
The National Defense Center of the Russian Federation said: “The flight of the Russian fighter was carried out in strict accordance with the international rules for the use of airspace.
“Violations of the state border of the Russian Federation are not allowed.”
The US has not yet responded to the claim.
It comes after the crash of a US military surveillance drone into the Black Sea on 14 March after it was intercepted by Russian jets.
The US Air Force released a video it said showed a Russian jet intercepting the drone and dumping fuel on it over the Black Sea.
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It said two Russian Su-27 jets flew close to the MQ-9 Reaper before one hit its propeller and forced remote operators to crash it into the ocean.
The incident highlighted the increasing risk of direct confrontation between the superpowers as fighting continues in nearby Ukraine.
American officials accused the Russian pilots of flying in a “reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner”.
Moscow denied the jets behaved dangerously and said they didn’t come into contact with the drone, claiming it crashed due to “sharp manoeuvring”.
Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash court case starts in US after man accused her of seriously injuring him in ‘hit-and-run’
Gwyneth Paltrow has appeared in court in the US over claims she seriously injured a man in a “hit-and-run” skiing crash in 2016.
She is accused of skiing “out of control” and hitting retired optometrist Terry Sanderson at Deer Valley Resort in Utah.
The lawsuit claimed that Paltrow crashed into him, “knocking him down hard, knocking him out, and causing a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries”.
Paltrow has alleged that Mr Sanderson is actually the culprit in the collision, and has been overstating his injuries.
The Hollywood star, also the founder and CEO of the wellness company goop, sat in the court wearing a high-necked cream jumper and brown trousers as opening statements in the case began.
Lawrence Buhler, representing Mr Sanderson, told jurors that Paltrow’s behaviour on the mountain in 2016 had been “reckless”.
Mr Sanderson first sued Paltrow in 2019, seeking $3.1m (£2.5m) in damages.
He is now seeking $300,000 (£245,000) after that claim was dropped.
The original 2019 claim stated that after hitting him, “Paltrow got up, turned and skied away, leaving Sanderson stunned, lying in the snow, seriously injured”.
It also said a Deer Valley ski instructor who had been training Paltrow saw Mr Sanderson had been injured but made no attempt to help him.
The instructor did not send for help and later accused Mr Sanderson of having caused the crash in a “false report to protect his client”, the claim said.
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The actress countersued for a symbolic $1, saying it was Mr Sanderson who had caused the crash and delivered a full “body blow”.
Paltrow’s claim said she was shaken by the collision and stopped skiing with her family for the day.
It added that Mr Sanderson apologised to her and said he was fine.
The trial is scheduled to last for eight days.
What happens if Donald Trump is arrested?
Donald Trump has claimed he is set to be arrested over an alleged hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
If right in his assertion, the former US president could be charged by authorities in New York within days.
But what will happen if he is indicted – and how will both sides present their case?
What Trump has said
In a post on his Truth Social platform on Saturday, Mr Trump said he expected to be arrested on Tuesday and urged his supporters to protest against the authorities if he is detained and indicted.
He published a long statement describing the investigation as a “political witch-hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said, before criticising a “corrupt, depraved and weaponised justice system”.
However, it’s worth noting a spokesperson for Mr Trump said he had not been notified of any pending arrest.
The case – that the Republican made a payment to Ms Daniels towards the end of the 2016 presidential campaign in exchange for her silence over an alleged affair – is one of several related to Mr Trump.
Other ongoing cases include a Georgia election interference probe and two federal investigations into his role in the 6 January insurrection in the US Capitol.
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What Trump will do
Mr Trump has accused Manhattan’s district attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, of targeting him for political gain, and may try to argue for the dismissal of the charges on those grounds.
He could also challenge whether the statute of limitations – five years in this instance – should have run out.
But in New York, the statute of limitations can be extended if the defendant has been out of state – Trump may argue that serving as US president should not apply.
Politically, how any possible indictment may affect Mr Trump’s chances in the 2024 presidential election is unclear.
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He could be the first former US president to face criminal prosecution – right as polls show him leading other potential rivals for the Republican nomination, including controversial Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
This could lead to the unprecedented situation in which Mr Trump would stand trial as he campaigns in 2024.
If elected, he would not have the power to pardon himself of criminal charges.
In any case, Mr Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina told CNBC on Friday that he would surrender if charged. If he refused to come voluntarily, prosecutors could seek to have him extradited from Florida, where he currently lives.
In an ironic twist, as governor, Mr DeSantis would typically have to give formal approval for an extradition.
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What prosecutors will do
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has spent nearly five years investigating Mr Trump.
It has presented evidence to a New York grand jury that relates to a £114,000 ($130,000) payment to Ms Daniels during the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
It is alleged the payment was given in exchange for Ms Daniels’ silence about an affair between her and Mr Trump.
Mr Trump has denied the affair and accused Ms Daniels of extortion.
Any indictment by the district attorney’s office would require Mr Trump to travel to its New York office to surrender.
But Mr Trump’s lawyers will likely arrange a date and time with authorities, as it is a white-collar case. And then his mugshot and fingerprints would be taken before appearing for arraignment in court.
Mr Trump could also be charged with falsifying business records – typically classed as a misdemeanour – after he reimbursed his former attorney Michael Cohen for the payments, falsely recorded as legal services.
To elevate it to a felony, prosecutors would have to show Mr Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime.
In any case, legal experts have estimated that any trial of the former US president would be more than a year away.
That’s why if it happened, it could coincide with the final months of a 2024 election in which Mr Trump seeks a controversial return to the White House.
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