There was no distribution plan for the coronavirus vaccine set up by the Trump administration as the virus raged in its last months in office, new President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, said on Sunday.
“The process to distribute the vaccine, particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House,” Klain said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Biden, a Democrat who took over from Republican President Donald Trump on Wednesday, has promised a fierce fight against the pandemic that killed 400,000 people in the United States under Trump’s watch.
He signed a series of executive orders last week, including some that target vaccine distribution.
Biden plans to partner with state and local governments to establish vaccination spots in conference centers, stadiums and gymnasiums. The new administration will also deploy thousands of clinical staff from federal agencies, military medical personnel and pharmacy chains to increase vaccinations, and make teachers and grocery clerks eligible.
Vaccination programs lagged far behind the Trump administration’s target of 20 million Americans inoculated by the end of 2020.
“We’ve seen this factor all over the country where millions of doses have been distributed, but only about half have been given out,” Klain said.
“So the process of getting that vaccine into arms – that’s the hard process. That’s where we’re behind as a country. That’s where we’re focused in the Biden administration – on getting that ramped up.”
For two Virginia police officers who posed for a photo during the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, the reckoning has been swift and public: They were identified, charged with crimes and arrested.
But for five Seattle officers the outcome is less clear. Their identities still secret, two are on leave and three continue to work while a police watchdog investigates whether their actions in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6 crossed the line from protected political speech to lawbreaking.
The contrasting cases highlight the dilemma faced by police departments nationwide as they review the behavior of dozens of officers who were in Washington the day of the riot by supporters of President Donald Trump. Officials and experts agree that officers who were involved in the melee should be fired and charged for their role.
But what about those officers who attended only the Trump rally before the riot? How does a department balance an officer’s free speech rights with the blow to public trust that comes from the attendance of law enforcement at an event with far-right militants and white nationalists who went on to assault the seat of American democracy?
An Associated Press survey of law enforcement agencies nationwide found that at least 31 officers in 12 states are being scrutinized by their supervisors for their behavior in the District of Columbia or face criminal charges for participating in the riot. Officials are looking into whether the officers violated any laws or policies or participated in the violence while in Washington. A Capitol Police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building and many other officers were injured. A woman was shot to death by Capitol Police and three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.
Most of the officers have not been publicly identified; only a few have been charged. Some were identified by online sleuths. Others were reported by their colleagues or turned themselves in.
They come from some of the countrys largest cities three Los Angeles officers and a sheriffs deputy, for instance as well as state agencies and a Pennsylvania police department with nine officers. Among them are an Oklahoma sheriff and New Hampshire police chief who have acknowledged being at the rally, but denied entering the Capitol or breaking the law.
If they were off-duty, its totally free speech, said Will Aitchison, a lawyer in Portland, Oregon, who represents law enforcement officers. People have the right to express their political views regardless of whos standing next to them. You just dont get guilt by association.
But Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a professor at Case Western Reserve University law school, said an officers presence at the rally creates a credibility issue as law enforcement agencies work to repair community trust, especially after last summer’s of protests against police brutality sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Communities will question the integrity of officers who attended the rally along with individuals who proudly profess racist and divisive viewpoints, she said. It calls into question whether those officers are interested in engaging in policing in a way that builds trust and legitimacy in all communities, including communities of color.
In Rocky Mount, a Virginia town of about 1,000, Sgt. Thomas Robertson and Officer Jacob Fracker were suspended without pay and face criminal charges after posting a photo of themselves inside the Capitol during the riot. According to court records, Robertson wrote on social media that the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem The right IN ONE DAY took the f(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.
Attempts to contact the pair were unsuccessful and court records do not list lawyers. Leaders in Rocky Mount declined to be interviewed. In a statement, they said the events at the Capitol were tragic.
We stand with and add our support to those who have denounced the violence and illegal activity that took place that day, said Police Chief Ken Criner, Capt. Mark Lovern and Town Manager James Ervin. Our town and our police department absolutely does not condone illegal or unethical behavior by anyone, including our officers and staff.
On the other side of the county, five Seattle officers are under investigation by the citys Office of Police Accountability. Two officers posted photos of themselves on social media while in the district and officials are investigating to determine where they were and what they were doing. Three others told supervisors that they went to Washington for the events and are being investigated for what they did while there.
Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said his department supports officers freedom of speech and that those who were in the nation’s capital will be fired if they were directly involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
But police leaders need to evaluate more than just clear criminal behavior, according to Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a policing research and policy group. They must also consider how their actions affect the department credibility, he said.
Officers’ First Amendment rights dont extend to expressing words that may be violent or maybe express some prejudice, Wexler said, because thats going to reflect on what they do when theyre working, when theyre testifying in court.
Through the summer and fall, Seattle police along with officers elsewhere came under criticism for their handling of mass protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd. The city received more than 19,000 complaints against officers, most for excessive use of force and improper use of pepper spray.
Andrew Myerberg, director of the Seattle Office of Police Accountability, said none of the officers now under investigation were involved in those cases.
But Sakara Remmu, cofounder of Black Lives Matter Seattle/King County, said the officers should be fired regardless. Their public declarations of solidarity with Trump fosters not just community distrust, but terror of the entire department, she said.
It absolutely does matter when the decorum of racial peace cracks and racial hatred comes through, because we already have a documented history and legacy of what that means in this country, Remmu said.
In Houston, the police chief decried an officer who resigned and was later charged in the riot. A lawyer for Officer Tam Pham said the 18-year veteran of the force “very much regrets being at the rally and was deeply remorseful.
But many chiefs have said their officers committed no crimes.
The Arkansas State Police respects the rights and freedom of an employee to use their leave time as the employee may choose, department spokesman Bill Sadler said of two officers who attended the Trump rally.
Malik Aziz, the former chair and executive director of the National Black Police Association, compared condemning all officers who were in Washington to tarring all the protesters who took to streets after the killing of George Floyd with the violent and destructive acts of some.
A major with the Dallas Police Department, Aziz said police acting privately have the same rights as other Americans, but that knowingly going to a bigoted event should be disqualifying for an officer.
Theres no place in law enforcement for that individual, Aziz said.
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JERUSALEM: Israel expanded its COVID-19 vaccination drive on Sunday to include 16- to 18-year-olds in what the government described as an effort to enable their attendance at school exams.
Israel, which has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate, is hoping to begin reopening its economy next month.
With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, Israel has administered at least one dose to more than 25% of its 9 million population since Dec. 19, the Health Ministry says.
The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or – with parental permission – those between 16 and 18.
The inclusion of late-teens is meant “to enable their return (to school) and the orderly holding of exams,” the Education Ministry spokeswoman said.
Israel awards a matriculation certificate to high school students in grades 10-12 who pass exams, administered by the Education Ministry, that play a major role in acceptance to universities. They can also affect placement in the military, where many Israelis do compulsory service after high school.
The country has been under a third national lockdown since Dec. 27, which it plans to lift at the end of January.
Education Minister Yoav Galant said it was too early to know if schools would reopen next month. Among factors deciding this was how much Israel, which is struggling against a surge of infections, was affected by the contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain, he told Ynet TV.
Hezi Levy, director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry, was asked in an Army Radio interview whether vaccinating teens might pose unforeseen risks – perhaps to their own yet-unborn children.
“I don’t know,” Levy said. “This vaccine is no different to vaccines against other viral diseases … and was successfully tested for side effects.” He added that he had no doubt that – weighing the relative risks from the coronavirus – it was preferable to get the vaccine.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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BEIJING: Rescuers in east China on Sunday pulled 11 miners from hundreds of metres underground where they had been trapped for two weeks, state media reported, as the race to locate the remaining 10 intensified. The miners were brought to the surface starting from around 11 am Sunday, state broadcaster CCTV reported — a major breakthrough for a rescue operation that has captivated the nation. One miner was in “extremely weak physical condition” and rushed to hospital, CCTV said. The 11 miners were rescued after the air ventilator shaft was cleared, the official state news agency Xinhua reported, citing the operation’s command centre. A further ten remain unaccounted for. Specialist teams have been battling difficult conditions since an explosion at the Hushan mine in Shandong province trapped the miners underground amid rising waters on January 10. The explosion occurred in a ventilator shaft, causing a blockage that damaged the cable car. On Sunday morning the huge obstacles suddenly fell to the bottom of the shaft, allowing the operation to take a big step forward, rescue expert Du Bingjian said. “After the obstacles fell to the bottom of the shaft, the rescue team started to bring up the miners and suspended the drilling work,” Du told the Global Times. “It is currently unclear when the rescuers will reach the Sixth Central Section where the missing miners are believed to be.” State broadcaster footage on Sunday showed a small elevator carriage lifted to the surface, accompanied by rescue workers. A masked man, who appeared unable to stand, was carried out. Later footage showed emergency workers lifting out other miners, who wore black shades to protect their eyes from the light. One appeared to be holding his hands as if praying. Contact was first established a week ago with a group of 11 miners trapped in a section of the mine around 580 metres (1,900 feet) below the surface. One of them was seriously injured in the initial explosion and died after falling into a coma. Another miner was found alive by rescuers as they attempted to reach the group. Rescue teams have been lowering food, medicine and other supplies to the group through several lifeline shafts drilled into the rock. State media reported Friday that the health of the miners had been gradually returning to a “normal state” after regular deliveries of food. Life detectors and nutrient solutions have been lowered to other parts of the mine in the hope of reaching those still missing. In December, 23 workers died after becoming stuck underground in the southwestern city of Chongqing.
Pakistan has authorised the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V, the third anti-COVID-19 vaccine approved by the country against the deadly coronavirus, authorities said on Sunday. The government has given a go-ahead to a local pharmaceutical company for the import and distribution of the Russian-developed Sputnik V, the Dawn newspaper quoted an official as saying.
Sputnik V is the third vaccine to be approved for the emergency use in the country, the report said. In a meeting conducted by the registration board of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), another vaccine has also been given EUA (emergency use authorisation) which was developed with the backing of Russian Development Investment Fund, the official said.
A local pharmaceutical AGP, he said, had been authorised as the sole importer and distributor of the Russian vaccine, according to the paper. Pakistan reported 48 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the number of fatalities due to the disease to 11,295, while 2,070 patients were in a critical condition, according to the ministry of National Health Services.
The ministry further reported that 486,489 people have recovered, meaning that the number of active patients was 34,628. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the country reached 532,412 after 1,594 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours.
The authorities so far have carried out 7,642,665 tests in the country, including 40,285 in the last 24 hours. On January 17, DRAP authorised the Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in Pakistan. A couple of days later, the regulatory body approved Chinese state-owned firm Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, the second shot to be given approval for the use in the country.
Last week, Hungary became the first European Union country to approve the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for public distribution. A short time later the UAE also announced the same decision making it 12th country outside of Russia which have authorised its use.
HONG KONG: Hong Kong plans to lift the Covid-19 lockdown that was imposed on one of its most densely populated districts on Monday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung informed on Sunday. Chief Secretary Cheung said that the authorities are set to complete coronavirus screening this weekend on around 10,000 people living in the Yau Tsim Mong area, which was placed under quarantine on Saturday to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the South China Morning Post reported. Stating that the preliminary results from the screening operation were expected by Sunday night, Cheung added: “If everything goes smoothly, we can lift the restrictions at 6 am on Monday so that people can go to work.” “This is an area where building management is less than satisfactory. That’s what we are focusing on. Some buildings have no management at all. We have to improve this urban redevelopment. Urban renewal is needed,” Cheung said, SCMP quoted. He further said that officials have been visiting households in the restricted zone to send the occupants to mobile screening stations. Amid the rising number of cases in Hong Kong, more than 700 people are currently hospitalised and 38 are in critical condition. So far, Hong Kong has registered more than 10,000 cases and 168 deaths.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Drug Regulatory Authority has approved the emergency use of the Russian-made vaccine against the coronavirus disease, Gam-COVID-Vac, commonly known as Sputnik V. The regulatory authority held a meeting on Friday during which it gave emergency use authorisation to the Russain Covid-19 vaccine, The News International reported. “The registration board of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) in its 299th meeting on Friday, granted emergency use authorisation to Russian made Covid-19 vaccine Gam-COVID-Vac, whose trade name is Sputnik V. A local pharmaceutical firm, AGP Limited had applied for registration, marketing and distribution of the vaccine in Pakistan,” an official of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) told the Pakistani daily (The New) on Saturday. “The decision to grant Emergency Use Authorisation was announced by the registration board of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan during its meeting being held at 4:00 pm yesterday (Friday) following which, the first shipment of the vaccine is expected to reach Pakistan by next week”, the DRAP official said. Last week, vaccines developed by UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University along with China’s Sinopharm were given authorisation for emergency use. Pakistan has so far recorded 532,412 total cases and 11,295 deaths. Meanwhile, there are 34,628 active cases in the country with 4 per cent of positivity rate, Geo News reported.
One year after lockdown, Wuhan has long since sprung back to life but Zhu Tao remains bunkered in his 14th-floor apartment, spending his days doomscrolling through news, playing virtual soccer on his PlayStation and feeling China is teetering on the brink of collapse.
He has blown thousands of dollars, his life savings, stockpiling beef jerky and chocolate bars, bottles of water and sacks of rice, masks, alcohol and disinfecting wipes, and a $900 solar panel.
Haunting Zhu is the fear that the virus might return that once again, the government will conceal the truth, and once again, Wuhan will fall under lockdown.
I’m in a state of eating and waiting for death, eating and waiting for death, Zhu said, with a buzzcut he trimmed himself, since he does not dare to venture out to the barber. People like me might be the minority, but I take it very seriously.
Zhu, a 44-year-old smelter at the citys state-run iron and steel works, is well outside the mainstream in China. He is a hardboiled government critic, an on-and-off demonstrator, a supporter of the Hong Kong democracy movement.
He and others willing to publicly air such views are ridiculed, dismissed or silenced. They are a minority in an increasingly authoritarian and prosperous China, where there is less tolerance for protest and less appetite to do so.
Early in the Wuhan outbreak, which would later spread around the globe and kill over 2 million people, Zhu ignored state media reports that downplayed the virus and stayed home, a move that may have saved him, his wife and his son from infection.
For a few fleeting months, as public anger erupted at authorities who hid critical information on the coronavirus, Zhu felt his early caution warranted, his deep suspicion of officials vindicated.
But as winter mellowed into spring and Wuhans lockdown was lifted, the mood shifted. Now, the rich kids of Wuhan down pricey bottles of whiskey and bop to crashing electronica at the citys swank nightclubs. Thousands throng Jianghan road, the citys premier shopping street.
Once seen as prophetic, Zhu has now become a pariah, his anti-state sentiment more and more at odds with government orthodoxy. He has alienated his in-laws and neighbors and has been detained, subjected to surveillance and censored.
Bracing for another wave of infection, he wonders how its possible that everyone around him is carrying on with life as usual.
This is the biggest historical event in the past century, Zhu said. But everyone has gone back to their lives, just like before the epidemic. … How can they be so numb, so indifferent, as though they barely experienced anything at all?
Zhu grew up in the 1980s, a politically open era in China, when teachers at times touched on concepts like democracy and freedom of speech after the disastrous tumult of Mao Zedongs Cultural Revolution.
It suited Zhu, given his self-described very naughty, very rebellious nature and his intellectual instincts, reflected in the way he peppers his language with literary references despite never having gone to college.
He was just a kid during the 1989 Tiananmen protests, when hundreds of thousands took to Beijings central square to demand democratic rights. But in the years after the bloody military crackdown on the protesters, he read more about it, growing sympathetic even as others grew cynical, indifferent or even supportive of Communist Party rule, won over by Chinas growing prosperity.
When Zhu first went online over a decade ago, he discovered others shared his way of thinking. China hadnt yet developed the sophisticated internet police force that patrols the web today, and uncensored news about the government constantly exploded online.
The first controversy to catch Zhus eye was a scandal over tainted milk powder that killed six babies and sickened tens of thousands more. He joined chat groups and get-togethers and slowly slipped into dissident circles.
After President Xi Jinping Chinas most authoritarian leader in decades came to power, Zhus views brought him more and more trouble. In 2014, he was detained for a month after donning a black shirt and a white flower at a Wuhan plaza in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, estranging him from his teenage son.
But when a mysterious respiratory illness began spreading through Wuhan early last year, Zhu’s deep-seated skepticism toward the government suddenly proved prescient. After seeing rumors of the disease in late December 2019, Zhu began warning friends and family. Many brushed him off as an obstinate gadfly, but his wife and son stayed home, saving them from outings that would soon sicken relatives.
The first to fall ill was his wifes aunt, who started coughing after an appointment with an eye doctor at a hospital where the virus was spreading. Next was his wifes cousin, who had accompanied her to the same hospital. Then it was his neighbors mother.
Then came the lockdown, proclaimed with no warning on Jan. 23 at 2 in the morning. Wuhan stumbled into the history books, the epicenter of the biggest quarantine in history. The virus ravaged the city of 11 million, flooding hospitals and killing thousands, including his wife’s aunt on Jan. 24.
Zhu took grim satisfaction in being proved correct. He watched on social media as public anger exploded, reaching a fever pitch in February with the death of Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor who was punished for warning others of the very disease that would claim his life.
That night, Zhu was glued to his phone, scrolling through hundreds of posts decrying censorship. There were hashtags demanding freedom of speech. There was a quote from Li to a Chinese magazine shortly before his death: A healthy society shouldnt just have one voice.
By early next morning, many of the posts had been purged by censors. On his wife’s cousin death certificate, doctors wrote she died of an ordinary lung infection, though she had tested positive for the coronavirus. That deepened Zhus suspicions that cases were being grossly undercounted.
I was so angry it hurt, he said. I had nowhere to vent my emotions. You want to kill someone, youre so angry, you know?”
The outbreak strained Zhus relationships. His neighbor, a childhood friend, quarreled with Zhu after doctors told the neighbors mother that she had just a regular lung infection.
I questioned him. `How can you be sure that what the hospital told you was the truth?’ Zhu recalled. I said you should still be careful.
A week later, his friends mother passed away. On her death certificate, coronavirus was given as the cause. They argued the day she died, with Zhus friend accusing him of cursing his mother. The two havent spoken since.
In April, the lockdown was lifted after 76 days. But as others crept back to work, Zhu asked for a years medical leave and shut himself in. His quarantine has lasted nearly 400 days and counting.
He refused to go to his cousin’s and aunts funerals that summer, even though there were no longer any new cases in Wuhan. His angry in-laws cut off contact.
Pockets of like-minded people still dot China, from renegade intellectuals in Beijing to a punk cafe in Inner Mongolia where posters and stickers read preventable and controllable – quietly jeering the boilerplate phrase officials used to downplay the virus.
In Wuhan, circles of dissidents gather on encrypted chats to swap intelligence. At small gatherings over tea, they grouse about inconsistencies in the party line with a hint of pride, saying they saved themselves from the virus by not trusting the government.
But under the watchful gaze of state cameras and censors, there is little room to organize or connect. Ahead of the lockdown anniversary this year, police spirited at least one dissenter out of Wuhan. He was bei luyou, or touristed, the playful phrase used by activists to describe how police take troublemakers on involuntary vacations at sensitive moments.
In his self-quarantine, Zhu has found solace in literature. He is drawn to Soviet writers who poked fun at Moscows vast propaganda apparatus. He is also convinced the virus could be spreading widely, even though Chinas official case count is now far lower than that of most other countries.
Theyve been lying for such a long time, Zhu said, so long that even if they started telling me the truth, I wont believe it.
BRASILIA: Brazil‘s newly launched vaccination campaign against Covid-19 has gotten off to a late and rocky start — as the country is hammered by a second wave of the disease, it is already close to running out of vaccine, syringes and other vital equipment, according to scientists who blame the government of Jair Bolsonaro. The campaign only began on Monday in the country of 212 million, weeks after the United States and European countries launched their vaccination programs. The late rollout, hampered by short supplies, has sparked growing public ire, with widespread complaints about people being vaccinated out of turn. Thousands of people in several cities mounted protests this weekend demanding Bolsonaro’s ouster. The inoculation drive so far involves six million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine from China’s Sinovac, and two million of the British AstraZeneca-Oxford jab, which arrived Friday after several delays from India where they are made. The Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, associated with Sinovac, has also received authorization for another 4.8 million doses of CoronaVac. But no sooner had the vaccination program begun than professionals sounded the alarm about delays. This comes at a time when the pandemic has been surging, claiming more than 1,000 lives a day and more than 215,000 to date, second only to the US total of over 415,000. Any interruption in the supply chain could bring the vaccination program to a sudden halt, according to Isabella Ballalai, vice president of the Brazilian Society for Immunology (SBIM). She denounced what she called “the incompetence of the Health Ministry” and said greater transparency is needed to restore public confidence. Bolsonaro, who has long played down the seriousness of Covid-19, on Friday cast doubt on the effectiveness of vaccines. The government acknowledged this month that it lacked 30 million syringes for the first phase of its national plan, which aims — over an unclear timeline — to immunize 50 million people. On top of the distribution challenges in this vast country, complaints have arisen in several cities about people getting vaccinated even when not in a priority group. In Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, where hospitals are overflowing with Covid patients and oxygen supplies are critically short, the outcry of complaints led to a 24-hour suspension of vaccinations. The Butantan Institute has said it expects eventually to be able to produce 40 million doses of the CoronaVac; the Fiocruz foundation, which has links to the Health Ministry, is supposed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine but has warned of supply chain problems. Many experts attribute the delays to Bolsonaro’s frequent criticism of the CoronaVac vaccine, which they say has offended the Chinese. The only explanation, said Margareth Dalcolmo, a pulmonologist and researcher at Fiocruz, is “absolute negligence, the diplomatic incompetence of Brazil.” Bolsonaro on Thursday rejected such criticism, saying the problem “is bureaucratic and not political.” Thomaz Favaro, a political analyst with Control Risks, pointed a finger at the government, which he said “delayed in signing agreements with the laboratories.” Brazil has yet to reach agreement to purchase either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Janssen vaccine. But Favaro said Bolsonaro will eventually have to pay a political price, adding, “the delay in the vaccination campaign has a serious impact on economic recovery, and that will increase people’s frustration.” A new poll Friday showed Bolsonaro’s popularity is at its lowest point — 31 percent — since he came to office in January 2019.
KLINY, Czech Republic: In a dog training centre built inside a shipping container located in a Czech mountain village, Renda, Cap and Laky are being put to the test. They sniff at six vessels, each containing a piece of cloth with scent from patients with Covid-19, negative donors, or fake samples. “Good boy!” exclaims Lenka Vlachova, a trainer working at Prague’s fire brigade, as jagdterrier Renda sits down by one sample, wagging his tail. The team of dog trainers are working in their own time and report a 95-percent success rate in Covid-19 detection in samples of human scent. “The study is designed to verify dogs’ ability to detect Covid-19 and generate a method enabling the use of trained dogs in combatting the pandemic,” project head Gustav Hotovy told AFP. “The method should also work with other diseases, even more lethal than Covid-19,” Hotovy said. “In the end, we should be able to detect a huge number of people in a very short time with a trained dog,” he said, speaking in the snowy village of Kliny near the German border. Vlachova told AFP the first study confirming dogs are able to detect tissue attacked by a virus was conducted in the United States about a decade ago. “The virus changes the human tissue, affecting the scent signature of the person,” she said. Hotovy, a retired cynologist whose team started training the dogs last August, said that the signature changes “so much that it is immediately discernible for the dogs”. The samples used are obtained merely by rubbing a piece of cotton against the patient’s skin. The team then has to ensure the sample is virus-free to prevent the dogs from catching the disease. Using the same sampling method, a Finnish team has been using dogs for testing at Helsinki airport, reporting its dogs can detect the virus with close to 100 percent accuracy. Vlachova said the Czechs would like to work together with the Finns or with French and German teams working on similar projects. Unlike their western peers, the Czech team works in its free time and relies on scant financial means provided by a local dog food maker. Cynologist Katerina Jancarikova said the virus-affected tissue made up “just a tiny fragment in the overall scent, a part of the dogs’ puzzle”. “It’s like looking for Wally,” she said, referring to the popular children’s books in which a tiny character in red and white stripes has to be found in pictures of a huge crowd. Jancarikova said any dog can be trained for detection as long as it is cooperative. As Vlachova led Renda back to the van, Hotovy walked into the training centre with a sturdy giant schnauzer named Laky who eagerly sniffed at the vessels, placed in a different pattern, before easily identifying the positive one. “He was once reluctant to cooperate,” he chuckled, adding that the dogs showed the same eager response when let loose in a nearby house where a guest who tested positive for Covid-19 had been staying. “They immediately jumped at his bed with the same happy reaction they show over a positive sample in the centre,” he said.