COVID-19’s Origins Back Under the Microscope

Happy Friday! Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran announced this week he will release the final album of his mathematics era, −, later this spring. He’s already published +, x, ÷, and =.

Come on, Ed, let’s get crazy. What about ∑, π, and √ ? Or γ, ∫, and Dx y! We just know Poisson(λ) would be nominated for a Grammy.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Biden administration unveiled its first national cybersecurity strategy on Thursday, providing a roadmap of laws and regulations aimed at preparing the country’s cyber infrastructure for emerging threats. The 40-page document prepared by the Office of the National Cyber Director outlines the five pillars driving the administration’s cyber policy: defending critical infrastructure; disrupting and dismantling threat actors; shaping market forces to drive security and resilience; investing in a resilient future; and forging international partnerships.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting of G20 foreign ministers on Thursday, marking their first in-person conversation since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the 10-minute encounter, Blinken reportedly pledged the United States’ continued support for Ukraine, urged Russia not to abandon the New START arms control agreement, and demanded the release of Paul Whelan, an American citizen held by Russia since 2018. 
  • The Taiwanese Defense Ministry announced yesterday 21 Chinese military jets were detected in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone Thursday morning, one day after the U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets and related material worth $619 million to Taiwan.*
  • A bipartisan group of senators—including Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance—introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023, aimed at staving off future hazardous derailments like the one in East Palestine, Ohio, last month. It’s not clear any of the legislation’s provisions would have prevented the East Palestine disaster were it in effect, but the act would raise the maximum fine the U.S. Department of Transportation can levy for safety violations from $225,000 to 1 percent of a railroad’s annual operating income, set a two-person minimum for train crews, and require more emergency response plans and hazardous material training. President Joe Biden encouraged lawmakers to send the bill to his desk, and Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has agreed to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next week.
  • The third place finisher in Nigeria’s recent presidential election, Peter Obi, vowed on Thursday to overturn his defeat in court, citing thus-far unverified claims of fraud and voter suppression. Obi ran as an outsider against candidates—Atiku Abubakar and the victor, Bola Tinubu—supported by the two major parties, and he has 21 days from the March 1 announcement of the results to file his claim contesting the outcome.
  • The annual rate of inflation in the Eurozone ticked down to 8.5 percent in February from 8.6 percent in January, the European Union statistics agency reported Thursday—a slower decline than anticipated. Prices fell in the energy sector, from 15 percent year-over-year in January to 14.1 percent in February, but rose in other sectors of the economy, including food and services. The continued high prices will likely result in the European Central Bank raising interest rates yet again.
  • President Biden said Thursday he will not veto a GOP-led bill—supported by a handful of Democrats—that would roll back changes to the D.C. criminal code eliminating some mandatory minimum sentences and reducing maximum penalties for crimes like carjacking and illegal possession of a firearm. The measure, which would repeal updates to the code the D.C. Council passed over Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto, is likely to pass with bipartisan support
  • Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office announced Thursday the senator, 89, was hospitalized in California this week to receive treatment for shingles but plans to return to Washington later this month. With Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman currently hospitalized for clinical depression, the Senate stands at a 49-49 split between Republicans and Democrats. 
  • The House Ethics Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to investigate embattled Republican New York Rep. George Santos, the committee announced Thursday. The investigative subcommittee will attempt to determine if Santos violated federal conflict of interest laws, lied on paperwork submitted to the House of Representatives, or engaged in sexual misconduct towards a prospective employee of his office.    
  • The Department of Labor reported Thursday initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 2,000 week-over-week to a seasonally-adjusted 190,000 claims last week, indicating an historically tight labor market. 

Meat Market or Lab?

Laboratory technicians wearing personal protective equipment at a a COVID-19 testing facility, in Wuhan in China. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The Department of Energy may have only “low confidence” in its assessment that COVID-19 likely originated in a lab, but Republicans long criticized for their openness to the idea are still celebrating the agency’s conclusion—so much so, in fact, that you might think the report was accompanied by a little vial labeled “Nov. 2019 Wuhan COVID Recipe—Do Not Remove!”

“There was always enormous evidence that the Wuhan coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan lab,” asserted former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “I’m glad the Department of Energy recognizes this reality.” Sen. Tom Cotton—previously excoriated as a conspiracy theorist for voicing his belief that the virus originated in a lab—also took a victory lap. “The only conspiracy back in the early part of 2020 was a conspiracy of silence,” he told Fox News.

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