Hong Kong-based scientists Kwok-Yung Yuen and Sri Lanka’s Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris won the prize in life sciences in the 2021 Future Science Prize, dubbed ‘China’s Nobel Prize’ for their major discoveries of SARS-CoV-1 as the causative agent of the global SARS outbreak in 2003 with impact on combating COVID-19 and emerging infectious diseases, the award organiser announced on Sunday.
The Chines Embassy in Colombo issued the following statement: “The Future Science Prize is a privately funded science honour established by a group of renowned scientists and entrepreneurs in 2016, aiming at recognising scientific breakthroughs and innovations in China with long-term significance to the world. The prize is given in three categories with $1 million for each award, namely the Life Science Prize, Physical Science Prize and Mathematics and Computer Science Prize.
Yuen, from the University of Hong Kong, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday that “this is one of the most important prizes not just in China but also internationally. I am really honoured and grateful to get the recognition of the very eminent scientists of the selection committee for the prize.”
Wang Xiaodong, one of the reviewers of the award, said at Sunday’s press conference that “Chinese scientists were able to quickly identify the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to their contributions.”
When asked how their discoveries affect people’s understanding of the cause of COVID-19, Yuen explained that since he and his team discovered in 2005 that the horseshoe bat was the natural animal reservouir for the ancestral SARS-CoV-1, they believe that SARSCoV-2 “also went from bats to another mammal(s) before jumping into humans”.
Moreover, SARS-CoV-2 replicates very well in both bat and human intestinal organs, which further supports the bat origin of SARS-CoV-2, he said. But there are also major differences between the two diseases, Yuen noted, in terms of “disease severity, asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic rates and the ability of the virus to suppress interferon and inflammatory responses.”
As world scientists call for the second phase of the coronavirus origins study, experts from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have suggested that investigations should be carried out in countries where horseshoe bats and pangolins reside, those with virus-positive animal data and which supplied Wuhan Huanan seafood market through cold-chain logistics, as more tests and molecular viral research suggest it is possible that the early outbreak in the Huanan market may have been sparked by cold-chain imports.
Jin Dongyan, a professor at the School of Biomedical Sciences at HKU, told the Global Times the same day that Yuen and his research team, where a group of world-leading researchers are gathered, are very valuable to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. “From SARS to COVID-19, the team has been engaged in coronavirus-related basic studies while combing through clinical studies. That working mode contributes to the outstanding work of the university to the study of infectious diseases,” Jin said.
Yuen and his research team are devoting their efforts to find out how to prevent potential re-emergence of a SARS and COVID-19-like public health crisis. Studies on the types of coronaviruses that exist in bats, the potential hosts of the cross-species transmission, as well as how humans transmitted the virus to animals are part of their research, Jin said.
Yuen also told the Global Times that he is working on many areas from the pathogenesis of the coronavirus to antivirals and vaccines. “My part of the awarded prize will go back to the HKU for teaching and research purposes,” he added.
Apart from Kwok-Yung Yuen and Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris, Zhang Jie, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, won the Physical Science Prize for his development of laser-based fast electron beam technologies. Simon Sze from the “National Chiao Tung University” in the island of Taiwan won the prize in mathematics and computer science.
The science committee of the prizes, composed of 23 outstanding scientists, is at the core of the award selection. Mau-Chung Frank Chang, chairman of the committee, said that the nomination and selection of the prize was established in accordance with the Nobel Prize system, in which the committee invites international experts as nominators and then solicits evaluation letters from experts in relevant fields of the nominated work. Based on the evaluations, the committee then votes to select the final award winners.
In the previous five years, 20 winners were awarded the Future Science Prize, all of whom have been widely recognised both in scientific circles and society. The late Yuan Longping, known as “the father of hybrid rice,” was awarded the Life Science Prize in 2018 “for pioneering the use of hybrid vigor to achieve higher yield and increased stress resistance in rice.”
Central Bank urged to save collapsing local industries
The National Freedom Front (NFF) has requested the immediate intervention of the Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal to save micro, small and medium scale industries badly affected by the current economic downturn caused by the Covid-19.
The NFF parliamentary group comprises six members, including one National List.
Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, on behalf of the SLPP constituent parties, has warned of steep increase in unemployment, drop in the contribution made by small and medium scale industries to the national economy and the further widening of the gap between the rich and poor.
Party sources told The Island that the NFF had decided to take up the urgent matter because, in spite of repeated promises, those who had been severely affected were yet to receive assistance. Minister Weerawansa has urged the Central Bank to restructure loans obtained by affected industries and also extend the moratorium.
Weerawansa has in a letter dated Oct.18, told Cabraal that according to a survey conducted by the Industrial Development Board, micro, small and medium enterprises suffered serious setbacks. However, of the loans made available through the banking sector, a substantial segment had been disbursed among major players, the Minister said, while pointing out that in other countries in the region more than 50 percent of total loans were made available to micro, small and medium industries.
Unfortunately, here in Sri Lanka they received approximately 15 percent of the total given as loans, the minister said.
Minister Weerawansa said that though industries suffered, almost all state and private banks had recorded much improved performances with significant profits.
The Minister said that following his intervention with the cabinet of ministers, the government agreed on a plan of action to deal with the situation. It would be the responsibility of the Central Bank to implement the agreed proposals, he said.
So far no side effects among Pfizer vaccinated 15,000 A/L students
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Over 15,000 GCE AL students had been vaccinated with Pfizer and there had not been any side effects, Colombo District Director of Health Dr. Dilip Liyanage told the media yesterday.
He said that the Ministry of Education had given them a list of 20,688 that needed to be vaccinated.
“We would like to assure parents that there is no need to worry. Over 15,000 children have been vaccinated and there have been no problems so far. Trust the health professionals and vaccinate your child at the first opportunity you get,” he said.
Dr. Liyanage added that children who missed their chance to get vaccinated on weekdays, can get vaccinated at the MOH office near their home.
Govt. approves prohibition of cattle slaughter
The government has approved the prohibition of cattle slaughter. The decision was announced at the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Information Department yesterday (19). The government said the relevant laws and regulations, including those passed by Local Government authorities would be amended for that purpse.
The Legal Draftsman has drafted Bills to amend the following acts and ordinances.
• Authority 272 of the Cattle Slaughter Ordinance No. 9 of 1893
• Act No. 29 of 1958 Concerning Animals
• Municipal Councils Ordinance – Section 252
• Section 255 of the Municipal Councils Ordinance
• Ordinance No. 15 of the Urban Council Act of 1987
The Attorney General has certified that the said Bills do not clash with the provisions of the Constitution.
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