Coronavirus Epicenter Reports No New Cases for First Time Since Outbreak Began
As the new coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the country and city where it originated reported a hopeful milestone.
For the first time since the outbreak began, China reported no new domestic cases Thursday, The Guardian reported. And in Wuhan, the city where the disease that came to be called COVID-19 first emerged in December 2019, there were no new cases period, according to Time.
"Today we have seen the dawn after so many days of hard effort," senior National Health Commission inspector Jiao Yahui said.
China announced Thursday that all 34 new cases that were reported in the country compared to the day before were people who had arrived from elsewhere. The news suggests that China's dramatic quarantine measures, which placed more than 50 million people in Wuhan's Hubei province under lockdown since late January, have paid off, at least for now.
"It's very clear that the actions taken in China have almost brought to an end their first wave of infections," Ben Cowling, the head of the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at Hong Kong University's School of Public Health, told The New York Times. "The question is what will happen if there's a second wave, because the kind of measures that China has implemented are not necessarily sustainable in the long term."
In Wuhan, restrictions are already starting to ease, according to The Guardian. People in residential units deemed "virus free" can now leave their homes to do single activities, and, in places found virus-free for seven days, residents can move about free of restrictions if they don't gather in groups.
The news comes as the U.S. and Europe are restricting movement in response to a rising case load. In Italy, the death toll from the outbreak has risen past China's, BBC News reported Thursday, and lockdown measures originally set to expire March 25 have been extended. Italy has now seen 3,405 deaths compared to China's 3,245.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department Thursday issued its highest possible Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory, urging U.S. citizens and residents not to travel abroad, and to return home from abroad unless they were prepared to stay away indefinitely, CNN reported.
"Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice," the advisory said.
The coronavirus has so far sickened 209,839 people in 169 countries and killed 8,778, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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