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After death threats, Dr. Alina Chan doubles down on COVID-19 origin theory

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After death threats, Dr. Alina Chan doubles down on COVID-19 origin theory

Dr. Alina Chan has seen her work called a “farce” by the New Republic and “goofy” by Texas A&M head of biology Benjamin Neuman. China’s government-run Global Times newspaper maintained that she had “filthy behavior and a lack of basic academic ethics.” Readers of the article noted Chan’s Chinese heritage and called her a “race traitor.”

She’s also faced “death threats” — all because the molecular biologist believes that the COVID-19 virus likely came out of a lab at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“The threats are significant,” Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told The Post. “But I don’t like being painted as a damsel in distress. I am not a victim. I don’t want to encourage people. I don’t want them to think, ‘The threats are not working on her. We should step it up.’ The more I talk about threats, the more they happen.”

That said, she knows there are risks to speaking out about what she believes.

“This is so controversial that masks and vaccines result in threats coming at scientists,” she said at a Science and Technology Select Committee Q&A in London last week. “It’s unavoidable. I’m not in a rare situation … There are potential career effects.”

Chan’s book, “Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19” — written with Matt Ridley and published last month — has already stirred up controversy and division. Upon its release, the LA Times slammed the title with a review headlined: “These authors wanted to push the COVID-19 lab-leak theory. Instead they exposed its weaknesses.”

Before the book, Chan authored a paper with a pair of colleagues outlining three possibilities for the virus, including that it was from a lab. Chan posted a “tweetorial” — a digest version of her paper. It got picked up around the world, and the firestorm began.

But she continues tweeting multiple times a day, imploring people to keep their minds open. On Monday, as the Omicron variant swept across the globe, Chan tweeted: “A pandemic is worse than a plane crash because the casualties increase exponentially. Preventing a future pandemic in its early days is arguably as important as tamping down on a current pandemic.”

Virologist Shi Zheng-li (left), works with her colleague in the P4 lab of Wuhan Institute.
Virologists in the P4 lab of Wuhan Institute. Chan cited a 2018 proposal that showed scientists there “were developing a pipeline for inserting novel furin cleavage sites into the spike proteins that allow a coronavirus to latch onto the host cell and open the door of the host.”
Barcroft Media/Getty Images

She leans away from beliefs that the virus crossed over from animal to human at the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market — an idea espoused via a research paper put together by 21 virologists and posted online in July.

“There is uncertainty about whether there were any live animals capable of transmitting the virus to humans in the market during November and December 2019. But data shows that no bats or pangolin were sold there at that time and those are the only animals in which close relatives to the SARS-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, have been found,” Chan told The Post. “It was clearly a human super-spreader event” — which, she believes, appears to have begun in the 50,000-square-foot market, where the first patient to publicly show symptoms is thought to be a shrimp vendor.

But, Chan emphasized, scant information has been released — and that makes it impossible to be totally certain one way or the other: “Some news sources said that I found lab evidence. That is not true. If I had done that, it would be ‘case closed.’

A research group sent fecal and other bodily samples from bats they trapped in caves to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to search for coronaviruses.
Dr. Chan believes there is “a lot of circumstantial evidence for lab origin.”
EcoHealth Alliance

“No direct evidence points to natural origin. And it is not surprising to me that the early super-spreader event started in the market. It is located in the center of the city, surrounded by labs and hospitals,” Chan added. “And many elderly, who would be susceptible to COVID-19, live in the area. If you picked where a super-spreader event would happen, you would pick this area with so many factors.”

Dr. Alina Chan
Dr. Alina Chan

Operating like a biological detective, the Ivy Leaguer has “a lot of circumstantial evidence for lab origin. One thing that gives me this opinion is a [leaked proposal] created in 2018.”

As she explained to the Science Select Committee, the leaked proposal showed that the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the global nonprofit EcoHealth Aliance “were developing a pipeline for inserting novel furin cleavage sites into the spike proteins that allow a coronavirus to latch onto the host cell and open the door of the host. Without them, there would be no pandemic.”

In the scenario that seems most likely to Chan, scientists in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab would have been developing or modifying several coronaviruses with the intention of studying how viruses can jump from animals to humans.

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab.
“The burden is on scientists to show that their work did not result in the creation of the virus,” Chan said.
AP

“It is like uncovering a 2018 proposal for putting horns on horses. And then, at the end of 2019, a unicorn shows up in Wuhan,” she told The Post.

Citing her hypothesis before the London committee, she added, “It’s a coincidence that is worth investigating. The burden is on scientists to show that their work did not result in the creation of the virus.”

Workers in protective gear carry a bag containing a giant salamander that was reported to have escaped from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.
After COVID-19 began spreading, authorities confiscated animals from the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
AP

Chan’s quest for the truth is not helped by what appears to be a desire on the part of the Chinese government to keep details of lab activity quashed.

This became evident in January when members of the World Health Organization went to Wuhan to investigate the pandemic’s roots. “The [World Health Organization] went into a room where there were Chinese government officials and [WHO representatives] asked scientists, ‘Did you do this?’” Chan told The Post. “And they said, ‘No we did not do this.’ In front of Chinese government officials, what do you think their response would be? Who would say that a lab leak is likely? Let’s be clear. This was not a scientific process.”

Investigative team members of the World Health Organization visit Huanan seafood market this past January in Wuhan.
Investigative team members of the World Health Organization visited the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, where a vendor may have been the first COVID-19 patient.
Getty Images

In discussing the meeting, WHO’s mission leader, Peter Ben Embarek, told Science magazine, “The politics was always in the room … We had anywhere from 30 to 60 Chinese colleagues, and a large number of them were not scientists, not from the public health sector … I was not naïve about the political environment.”

Asked why professional people of science would cover up something like that, Chan told The Post: “On a human level people tend to cover up. It’s rare that people are blindingly honest. What we should be doing is acknowledging that it is not a conspiracy, that a lab caused it. If there is damning evidence we have to acknowledge that this kind of research is not China specific … There needs to be more of that kind of narrative. It is not a cultural issue. It is a science issue. This work is being done in so many countries.”

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, orange, emerging from the surface of cells, green, cultured in the lab.
This electron microscope image made available by the US National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in orange.
AP

As for Chan’s desire to get to the bottom of where the virus originated, she told The Post that it’s vital to know as much as possible about this virus in an effort to mitigate a future outbreak.

“We will kick ourselves if another pandemic happens and we have not done everything we can to learn from this one,” she said, pointing out that the knowledge will come from the release of e-mails, texts and documents created among the Wuhan researchers. “This should not be political, even though it has become that way.”

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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