Chinese researchers warn of new virus in pigs with human pandemic risk

The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely populated regions in China. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Chinese researchers warn of new virus in pigs with human pandemic risk

  • A team of Chinese researchers looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1
  • They said it has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,”

SHANGHAI: A new flu virus found in Chinese pigs has become more infectious to humans and needs to be watched closely in case it becomes a potential “pandemic virus,” a study said, although experts said there is no imminent threat.
A team of Chinese researchers looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1 that has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” according to the paper, published by the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, the authors said, adding that “close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented.”
The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely populated regions in China, where millions live in close proximity to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets.
The coronavirus that caused the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats in southwest China, and could have spread to humans via a seafood market in Wuhan, where the virus was first identified.
The PNAS study said pigs are considered important “mixing vessels” for the generation of pandemic influenza viruses and called for “systematic surveillance” of the problem.
China took action against an outbreak of avian H1N1 in 2009, restricting incoming flights from affected countries and putting tens of thousands of people into quarantine.
The new virus identified in the study is a recombination of the 2009 H1N1 variant and a once prevalent strain found in pigs.
But while it is capable of infecting humans, there is no imminent risk of a new pandemic, said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington.
“There’s no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure,” he said on Twitter after the paper’s publication. “That’s the key context to keep in mind.”


Out of work marriage registrars wait for couples to say ‘I do’ in Bangladesh

Updated 22 min 34 sec ago

Out of work marriage registrars wait for couples to say ‘I do’ in Bangladesh

  • Lockdown restrictions mean more people opt for virtual weddings

DHAKA: There were days when Khalilur Rahman Sardar would struggle to take a lunch break during office hours.

As one of Bangladesh’s 7,500 registrars officiating marriages in the country, his days were busy and diary always full.

However, after the government imposed social distancing restrictions in March to limit the spread of coronavirus in the country, the number of couples getting married in person fell drastically as well. Dhaka-based Sardar told Arab News on Monday that he’s been rendered jobless by the pandemic.

“Usually, I register around 20-40 marriages per month. But I have registered only two marriages in June. If the pandemic continues for an indefinite period, I don’t know how we will survive,” said Sardar, who is the president of the Bangladesh Muslim Marriage Registrar Association (BMRA).

With strict restrictions on movement, he said that a majority of couples, especially those residing in different cities, were choosing to get married online, resulting in a “total disaster” for most registrars.

Whereas earlier couples could walk into a marriage registrar’s office to legalise their wedding, nowadays the registrar receives a power of attorney from either the bride or groom to sign on their behalf in the registration book and make the wedding official.

In some cases, the bride or groom sends a signed and scanned copy of a “promise note” as a document of surety for the registrar. In addition to this, the registrar also enlists a guardian to send a video recording of the virtual ceremony for further proof. 

According to law, marriage registrars receive a 12.5 percent commission of the total amount of “Den Mohor,” the money pledged by the groom to his bride as part of a necessary process in a Muslim marriage.

Registrars bear all their office expenses from these earnings.

However, with no source of income due to couples opting for virtual weddings, the BMRA has appealed to the government to grant them a stimulus package or some financial relief.

“We also need to survive, just like other professionals in society. But in a situation with almost no work, how can we do that?” asked Iqbal Hossain, secretary-general of the BMRA.

“Our work volume is down to 5 percent of the normal workload. It’s become a question of our very existence and if it goes like this, many of our colleagues will be forced to switch the profession,” Hossain said.

However, virtual marriages have brought relief for some couples.

“Our marriage ceremony was scheduled to take place in the last week of May. But the COVID-19 pandemic compelled us to postpone all the ceremonies, and it was just a virtual marriage,” said Nusrat D., a resident of Dhaka’s Bangshal area.

She said that since her husband lives in Europe and couldn’t visit Bangladesh due to the international travel ban, they had no option but to exchange vows online.

Wedding planners in Dhaka are making optimum use of the lockdown restrictions, providing tailored packages for virtual marriages.

With charges ranging from $100 to $200, the packages include the services of a marriage registrar, a live musical show which is streamed online and an option to connect a guest list of up to 1,000 people.

“In the past month, I organised a virtual marriage where the groom was in Chottogram, and the bride was in the United Kingdom. I have four to five more clients who have signed up for the package,” said Labib Mohammad, chief executive of Selvice, an event management firm.