Fox's Tubi Just Surpassed Peacock as the Free Streaming Name to Watch - Nasdaq

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The Latest: Australia receives over 142,000 vaccine doses - OCRegister

The Latest: Australia receives over 142,000 vaccine doses - OCRegister

The Latest: Australia receives over 142,000 vaccine doses - OCRegister

Posted: 14 Feb 2021 07:29 PM PST

By The Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will begin vaccinating its population against COVID-19 next week after its first shipment of Pfizer vaccine was delivered on Monday.

More than 142,000 doses had arrived at Sydney airport, the government said. Health care, aged care and quarantine workers will be among the first to be vaccinated from Feb. 22.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will also be among the first to receive a dose in a bid to raise public confidence in the program.

Australia decided against accelerating the vaccine regulator's approval process in order to increase public confidence that the Pfizer product was safe.

So far, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use in Australia. But the regulator is expected to also approve the AstraZeneca vaccine soon.

Australia is contracted to receive 20 million Pfizer doses and to receive or manufacture at home 53.8 million AstraZeneca doses.



Scientists say it's still too early to predict the future of the coronavirus, but many doubt it will ever go away entirel y. The average of new U.S. virus cases has dipped below 100,000 a day for the first time in months. With more vaccines available, business owners wonder whether to require employees to be inoculated. Disability groups are pleading for the vaccine. Japan has formally approved its first COVID-19 vaccine. With street parties banned, Brazil Carnival goes online.


Follow all of AP's pandemic coverage at, and



NEW ZEALAND — New Zealand's largest city of Auckland has begun a three-day lockdown following the discovery of three unexplained coronavirus cases in the community.

Health officials say the cases are of the more contagious variant first found in Britain and that genome testing hadn't linked them to any previous known cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the lockdown after an urgent meeting with other top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She says they decided to take a cautious approach until they find out more about the outbreak.

The rest of New Zealand has also had restrictions imposed, including limiting crowd sizes to 100.

The lockdown, which extends through Wednesday, is the first in New Zealand in six months and represents a significant setback in the nation's largely successful efforts to control the virus. It has also forced a delay in the America's Cup sailing regatta.


LOS ANGELES — The rates of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations continue to fall across California, but the state's death toll remains persistently high.

California on Sunday reported another 408 deaths, bringing the total since the outbreak began to more than 46,840 — the highest in the nation.

Despite the grim death count, health officials are confident that California is emerging from its worst surge of the pandemic.

The number of patients in hospitals with COVID-19 slipped below 9,000 statewide, a drop of more than a third over two weeks.

The 8,842 new confirmed cases are more than 80% below the mid-December peak of about 54,000.


ROME — On the eve of what was supposed to finally be the much-delayed opening of Italy's ski slopes, the government yanked permission because high circulation of a coronavirus variant.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza's ordinance on Sunday forbidding amateur skiing at least until March 5 effectively kills hopes of ski lift operators and resort owners to salvage at least some of the season.

The ministry noted that analyses of virus samples indicate that a variant found in Britain is present in 17.8% of recently infected people in Italy.

The ski industry swiftly complained that operators have repeatedly prepared facilities only to be denied permission, as Italy's crucial tourism industry takes another blow.

The day-old government of Premier Mario Draghi promised to quickly compensate the ski sector for economic losses.


MEXICO CITY — Mexico received a shipment of 870,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses from a plant in India Sunday and laid out plans to vaccinate elderly people in the country's poorest, most remote areas first.

Mexico has so far used Pfizer shots to vaccinate frontline health workers, but has nearly run out of those. So the government will start applying its first doses of the AstraZeneca shot, which it purchased at $4 each.

Critics say it would be quicker and more efficient to start vaccination efforts in the worst-hit urban areas, where the elderly live closer together. But the government announced plans to send teams by truck, plane and helicopter to 330 outlying townships.

"The decision has been made to start in the most remote, marginalized towns with the country's poorest population," said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Mexico hopes to get enough vaccines from Pfizer, Russia, China and India to vaccinate all Mexicans over 60 by mid-April.


LONDON — U.K. government scientific advisers say the COVID-19 variant now predominant in the country may be up to 70% more deadly than previous variants, underscoring concerns about how mutations may change the characteristics of the disease.

The findings from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, published Friday on the government's website, build on preliminary research released Jan. 21. The group includes experts from universities and public agencies across the U.K.

The new report is based on analysis of a dozen studies that found the so-called Kent variant, named after the county where it was first identified, is likely 30% to 70% more deadly than other variants. The studies compared hospitalization and death rates among people infected with the variant and those infected with other variants.

The results of the analysis are worrisome, said Dr. David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School and the clinical lead for COVID at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.

"The higher transmissibility means that people who were previously at low risk of catching COVID (particularly younger fitter females) are now catching it and ending up in hospital,″ Strain said. "This is highlighted by the latest figures for hospitalization that now suggest almost 50:50 male to female ratio compared to this being predominantly in men during the first wave.″


ANCHORAGE, Alaska — School officials in Alaska have implemented a new policy requiring masks at sporting events last week in response to coronavirus outbreaks at a half-dozen Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District schools.

The Anchorage Daily News reported Friday that three large high schools in the district — Colony, Palmer, Wasilla — are among five facilities currently closed because of the outbreaks.

It is unclear when they are expected to reopen.

Public health officials say some of the confirmed COVID-19 cases started with students mixing at school lunches, but most are attributed to extracurricular activities, including sports.

Claudia Blydenburgh, assistant principal and activities director at Joe Redington Sr. Junior/Senior High School, said student-athletes would rather wear the masks than not participate.


PRAGUE — The Czech government has re-declared its state of emergency for next two weeks to be able to effectively tackle the coronavirus pandemic in one of the hardest hit European countries.

The decision has been approved in defiance of the lower house of Parliament, which has refused the government's request to extend the tool that gives the Cabinet extra powers necessary to impose and keep in place strict nationwide restrictive measures and limit people's rights.

Some lawyers and politicians say the government's move violates the country's Constitution.

The current state of emergency would expire on Sunday. The government could use other legal options to reimpose some measures but not all of them.

That means bars, restaurants and cafes would reopen Monday as well as services could return to business while the nighttime curfew and a ban for more than two people to gather in public would be cancelled.

The government warned that would worsen the pandemic and might cause the health system to collapse.

Sunday's move comes at the request of the heads of governments of all 14 Czech regions who say have not enough powers to fight the pandemic.


HONOLULU — Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has extended coronavirus restrictions through mid-March, but said that could change if confirmed cases remain low.

Blangiardi said during a news conference on Friday that he believes he is being realistic and is managing expectations following potential coronavirus superspreader events like the Super Bowl and Valentine's Day.

Blangiardi said he will shift the island to the next reopening stage before March 15 if numbers remain low.

Some business owners have disagreed with the decision, arguing their businesses are still struggling.

Meanwhile, the city extended the deadline to renew driver's licenses, state identification cards and permits to mid-April in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Friday, Hawaii has had 26,743 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 425 deaths since the pandemic began in March.


UNDATED — Though many people with disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID-19, in some U.S. states they're being left behind in the massive effort to get limited vaccines into the arms of those who need them most.

People with disabilities have been pushed down the priority list in places such as North Carolina and California, where the state reversed course after days of public pressure.

In Minnesota, parents are begging unsuccessfully to give their vaccination spots to their children whose Down syndrome makes them up to 10 times more likely to die if they catch the virus.

A trade group for disability service providers found 20 states haven't explicitly placed people with disabilities on their priority lists.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often immunocompromised, putting them at greater risk for complications if they get sick. They're also more likely to lose their jobs, can have a harder time with mask-wearing and social distancing, and have had to worry about whether they would be less likely to get critical care at hospitals.

Many have also had to make do with less help, since caregivers can be an infection risk.


LONDON — The U.K. government said Sunday that it reached its goal of giving at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to at least 15 million of the most vulnerable people in the country by mid-February, increasing pressure on ministers to clarify when they will ease a lockdown imposed in early January.

More than 15 million people, or 22% of the U.K. population, have received their first shot. The figure includes most people in the government's top four priority groups, including everyone over 75, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents.

"15,000,000! Amazing team,″ Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in a tweet that featured a red heart and three syringes. "We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.″

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to unveil his roadmap for easing restrictions on Feb. 22 amid signs that infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply since England's third national lockdown began on Jan. 4.

Johnson said in England, everyone in the four top priority groups had been offered the vaccine. He plans to release further details on the vaccination effort on Monday.


NEW YORK — Millions of New Yorkers with health conditions that leave them at high risk of illness from COVID-19 can theoretically sign up for appointments at state-run vaccination sites starting Sunday, but a lack of vaccine supply means many will be frustrated in their search for a shot.

Seven million New Yorkers, including health care workers and people over 65, were already eligible for vaccinations under previous state rules. About 3 million people over 16 with so-called comorbidities will become eligible starting Monday.

In order to be vaccinated, people will have to provide a doctor's letter, a signed certification or other medical information showing they have an eligible health condition.


Strong evidence in-person schooling can be done safely, CDC says - Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Posted: 12 Feb 2021 12:05 PM PST

The nation's top public health agency today provided a roadmap for reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic, emphasizing mask-wearing and social distancing and saying vaccination of teachers is important but not a prerequisite for reopening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the long-awaited update, but it cannot force schools to reopen, and agency officials were careful to say they are not calling for a mandate that all U.S. schools be reopened.

They said there is strong evidence now that in-person schooling can be done safely, especially at lower grade levels, and the guidance is targeted at schools that teach kindergarten up to 12th grade.

The agency also emphasized hand washing, disinfection of school facilities, diagnostic testing and contact tracing to find new infections and separate infected people from others in a school.

The guidance was issued as President Joe Biden faces increasing pressure to deliver on his promise to get the majority of schools back to in-person teaching by the end of his first 100 days in office. The White House said this week that a national strategy would be guided by science.

There's wide agreement that learning in the classroom is more effective and that students can face isolation and learning setbacks at home. But teachers unions in some areas say schools have failed to make buildings safe enough to return.

CDC officials emphasized that in-person learning has not been identified as a substantial driver of coronavirus spread in U.S. communities, and that transmission among students is now considered relatively rare.

The CDC also stressed that the safest way to open schools is by making sure there is as little disease in a community as possible. The agency urged local officials to assess whether a bad outbreak is occurring in a community when making decisions about sending adults and children in to schools.

The guidance included a color-coded chart, from blue to red, on assessing community spread, including rates of new cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests.

That said, high community transmission does not necessarily mean schools cannot be open — especially those at the elementary level. If school mitigation measures are strictly followed, the risk of spread in the schools should still be low, the guidance suggests.

The document suggests that when things get risky, elementary schools can go hybrid, providing in-person instruction at least on some days, but that middle and high schools might go virtual.

Biden has been caught between competing interests as he works to get students in the classroom without spurning the powerful teachers unions that helped get him elected. Critics say he has bowed to unions instead of taking more aggressive action on reopening.

Unlike former President Donald Trump, who pressured schools to open and blasted the CDC for issuing guidance that he said was impractical, Biden has kept his distance from the CDC as it works on recommendations. Even after the CDC's director recently said that vaccinations are not a prerequisite for reopening, the White House declined to take a firm stance on the question.

Getting students back in the classroom is seen as a key to getting parents back to work. As part of Biden's coronavirus relief package, he's calling for $130 billion to help schools update buildings, buy protective gear and enact other recommended safety measures.

Biden's national strategy says the administration "will also work with states and local school districts to support screening testing in schools, including working with states to ensure an adequate supply of test kits."

But the CDC guidance stops short of recommending testing, saying "Some schools may also elect to use screening testing as a strategy to identify cases and prevent secondary transmission."

Existing CDC guidelines encourage a variety of measures to fight COVID-19 in schools, including the use of masks in certain settings, along with social distancing, hand washing and regular cleaning.

Some education leaders, however, said that CDC guidance provided under Trump did not go far enough and that information issued to schools was inconsistent. On masks, for example, it says face coverings are recommended if students cannot be spaced 6 feet apart, but with social distancing, it says masks "may be considered."

In the early days of the U.S. epidemic, some health experts worried that schools might become cauldrons of coronavirus infection, with kids infecting each other and then spreading it to family members — as seems to be the case during cold and flu season.

Those concerns were stoked by reports of an explosive outbreak in May at a high school in Israel, shortly after schools in that country reopened after a lockdown.

But with the economy reeling after lockdowns of schools and businesses last spring, the Trump administration pushed hard for schools to reopen.

In July, Trump accused the CDC of "asking schools to do very impractical things" in order to reopen. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos incorrectly said research showed there is no danger "in any way" if kids are in school, and Vice President Mike Pence promised that the CDC would issue new guidance.

The CDC did post revised documents late that month that kept many of its earlier recommendations. But in response to reporters' questions, CDC officials said that the decision on whether to send kids back to school really rested with parents. The agency also posted an introductory document — written by government officials outside the CDC — that stressed the potential risks of children not attending school.

Tam takes aim at COVID-19 'infodemic,' urges vigilance over misleading online content -

Posted: 14 Feb 2021 02:38 PM PST

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, on Sunday warned Canadians to maintain vigilance about the pandemic information they consume online as misleading content widens its reach.

"Throughout the pandemic we have relied on technology and information-sharing platforms to keep us safe, informed and connected," Tam wrote in her Sunday COVID-19 update.

"At the same time, these platforms have contributed to an overabundance of information — an infodemic — that worsens the current pandemic by allowing false information to circulate more easily, hampering public health responses, creating confusion and distrust, and ultimately making it more difficult for people to make vital decisions about their health and safety."

Sunday's statement — which normally dives into a topic related to COVID-19 — was largely focused on battling misinformation and disinformation that has arisen over the course of the pandemic.

The public health crisis has sparked a torrent of misleading information and conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, how it is transmitted and the efficacy of vaccines.

Tam said false information has attempted to erode social cohesion and trust during the COVID-19 crisis and makes 'it more difficult for Canadians to determine fact from fiction and make informed decisions.' (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In early February, Statistics Canada published a report that found that almost all Canadians who used online resources to research the novel coronavirus believed they spotted misinformation online.

One-fifth of Canadians always checked the accuracy of COVID-19 information found on online platforms, while half of Canadians shared information they were unsure was accurate.

False information used to erode trust

"I am increasingly concerned about the number of false and misleading claims related to COVID-19 that make it more difficult for Canadians to determine fact from fiction and make informed decisions," Tam warned.

Canada's top doctor acknowledged the frustrations of Canadians struggling to keep up with constantly evolving public health advice and noted that pandemic restrictions mean people are spending more time on social media than usual.

"It is also important that we distinguish between misinformation — false information that is not created with the intention of hurting others — and disinformation, an extreme type of misinformation created with the intention of causing harm," Tam said. 

"During this pandemic, disinformation has been used to try to erode social cohesion, our trust in each other, our communities and even our public health institutions."

Tackling misinformation

Canada's threatened information landscape has led some people to take matters into their own hands.

Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is one of the founders of an online campaign launched last month aimed at combating misinformation about COVID-19.

"It's not going to fix everything, and we're talking about moving the needle. But when you're talking about something as problematic and as important as the spread of misinformation, moving the needle matters," Caulfield told CBC's Radio Active.

Radio Active7:35#Science Up First

Misinformation and conspiracy theories continue to be an issue that dogs online discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic. We speak to Timothy Caulfield one of the cofounders of a new digital media campaign that wants to combat that misinformation. 7:35

Others, including First Nation leaders and regional public health officials, have moved to tackle vaccine hesitancy and misleading information in their own communities.

In her statement, Tam advised Canadians to check where information comes from, even if it appears to come from a legitimate source. 

"Try checking to see if the information can be validated by other legitimate sources, like the Government of Canada's or the World Health Organization's COVID-19 websites, from provincial and territorial health ministry sites, or from local public health units or other trusted institutions like universities or health organizations. Finally, consider what the majority of experts are saying over what one or two individuals may have to say."

She also recommended fully reading articles rather than only headlines, reporting false information on social media platforms and speaking with friends and family when something untrue is shared.

The superspreaders behind top COVID-19 conspiracy theories - Minneapolis Star Tribune

Posted: 14 Feb 2021 09:16 PM PST

As the coronavirus spread across the globe, so too did speculation about its origins. Perhaps the virus escaped from a lab. Maybe it was engineered as a bioweapon.

Legitimate questions about the virus created perfect conditions for conspiracy theories. In the absence of knowledge, guesswork and propaganda flourished.

College professors with no evidence or training in virology were touted as experts. Anonymous social media users posed as high-level intelligence officials. And from China to Iran to Russia to the United States, governments amplified claims for their own motives.

The Associated Press collaborated with the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab on a nine-month investigation to identify the people and organizations behind some of the most viral misinformation about the origins of the coronavirus.

Their claims were explosive. Their evidence was weak. These are the superspreaders.


WHO HE IS: A Harvard trained law professor at the University of Illinois, Boyle drafted a 1989 law banning biological weapons and has advised the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Palestinian Authority.

Boyle has no academic degree in virology or biology but is a longstanding critic of research on pathogens. He has claimed Israeli intelligence was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; that SARS, the swine flu and Ebola have been genetically modified; and that West Nile virus and Lyme disease escaped from a U.S. biowarfare lab. He has also claimed that Microsoft founder Bill Gates "was involved" in the spread of Zika.

COVID CLAIM: Boyle says the coronavirus is a genetically engineered bioweapon that escaped from a high-level lab in Wuhan, China. He maintains it shows signs of nanotechnological tinkering and the insertion of proteins from HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. He alleges that U.S. researchers helped create it, and that thousands of doctors, scientists, and elected leaders are conspiring to hide the truth.

Boyle promoted his claim in an email to a list of news organizations and personal contacts on Jan. 24, 2020. That same day, he was interviewed on a podcast called "Geopolitics and Empire." That podcast was cited by a little-known Indian website, GreatGameIndia, and went viral, with Boyle's comments picked up and featured in Iranian-state TV, Russian state media, and fringe websites in the U.S. and around the world. He's since repeated his claims on Alex Jones' show Infowars.

EVIDENCE? Boyle bases his argument on circumstantial evidence: the presence of a Biosafety Level 4 lab in Wuhan, the fact that other viruses have escaped from other labs in the past, and his belief that governments around the world are engaged in a secret arms race over biological weapons.

Biosafety Level 4 labs - or BSL4 labs - have the highest level of biosafety precautions.

"It seemed to me that obviously, this came out of the Wuhan BSL 4," Boyle told The Associated Press, dismissing the accepted explanation that the virus emerged from the Wuhan market as "completely preposterous."

A World Heath Organization team concluded it was extremely unlikely the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, and other experts have said the virus shows no signs of genetic manipulation.



WHAT IT IS: A website that was an early promoter of the theory that the coronavirus was engineered.

Its Jan. 26, 2020, story on "Coronavirus bioweapon-How China Stole the Coronavirus From Canada and Weaponized It" was picked up by far-right financial blog Zero Hedge and shared to thousands of social media users before it was promoted by conservative website RedStateWatcher and received more than 6 million engagements.

COVID CLAIM: GreatGameIndia claims that the virus, which has now killed more than 2 million people worldwide, was first found in the lungs of a Saudi man and then sent to labs in the Netherlands and then Canada, where it was stolen by Chinese scientists. The article relies in part on speculation from Dany Shoham, a virologist and former lieutenant colonel in Israeli military intelligence.

Shoham was quoted discussing the possibility that COVID is linked to bioweapon research in a Jan. 26, 2020, article in the conservative U.S. newspaper The Washington Times. In that article, Shoham was quoted saying there was no evidence to support the idea that the virus has escaped from a lab, but GreatGameIndia did not include that context in its piece.

"We do stand by our report," said website co-founder Shelley Kasli wrote in an email. "In fact, recently Canadians released documents which corroborated our findings with Chinese scientists... A lot of information is still classified."

EVIDENCE? The coronavirus most likely first appeared in humans after jumping from an animal, a World Health Organization panel announced this month, saying an alternate theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab was unlikely.

America's top scientists have likewise concluded the virus is of natural origin, citing clues in its genome and its similarity to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, who has been studying the virus since its genome was first recorded, has said it is clear that the virus was not engineered or accidentally released.

"It is something that is clearly selected in nature," Racaniello said. "There are two examples where the sequence tells us that humans had no hand in making this virus because they would not have known to do these things."



WHAT IT IS: The Montreal-based center publishes articles on global politics and policy, including a healthy dose of conspiracy theories on vaccines and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It's led by Michel Chossudovsky, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Ottawa and a conspiracy theorist who has argued the U.S. military can control the weather.

The center publishes authors from around the world — many of whom have advanced baseless claims about the origins of the outbreak. In February, for instance, the center published an interview with Igor Nikulin suggesting the coronavirus was a U.S. bioweapon created to target Chinese people.

The center's website,, "has become deeply enmeshed in Russia's broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem" by peddling anti-U.S. conspiracy theories, according to a 2020 U.S. State Department report which found that seven of its supposed writers do not even exist but were created by Russian military intelligence.

COVID CLAIM: While the center has published several articles about the virus, one suggesting it originated in the U.S. caught the attention of top Chinese officials.

On March 12, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian retweeted an article published by the center titled: "China's Coronavirus: A Shocking Update. Did The Virus Originate in the US?"

"This article is very much important to each and every one of us," he posted in English on Twitter. "Please read and retweet it. COVID-19: Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US."

He also tweeted: "It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation."

The story by Larry Romanoff, a regular author at the center, cites several debunked theories, including one that members of the U.S. military brought the virus to China during the Military World Games in fall 2019. Romanoff concludes that it has now "been proven" that the virus originated from outside of China, despite scientific consensus that it did.

EVIDENCE? The World Health Organization has concluded that the coronavirus emerged in China, where the first cases and deaths were reported. No evidence has surfaced to suggest the virus was imported into China by the U.S.

Chossudovsky and Romanoff did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment. Romanoff's biography lists him as a visiting professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, but he is not listed among the university's faculty. The university did not respond to an email asking about Romanoff's employment.

Romanoff's original article was taken down in the spring, but Zhao's tweet remains up.



WHO IS HE? A four-time failed political candidate, Nikulin is prominently quoted in Russian state media and fringe publications in the west as a biologist and former weapons inspector in Iraq who served on a U.N. commission on biological and chemical weapons in the 1990s.

COVID CLAIM: Nikulin argues the U.S. created the virus and used it to attack China. He first voiced the belief in a Jan. 20, 2020, story by Zvezda, a state media outlet tied to the Russian military. He appeared on Russian state TV at least 18 times between Jan. 27, 2020, and late April of that year.

Once the virus reached the U.S., Nikulin changed his theory, saying "globalists" were using the virus to depopulate the earth.

Nikulin has expressed support for weaponizing misinformation to hurt the U.S. in the past. On his website, he suggests claiming the U.S. created HIV as a way to weaken America from within. Russian intelligence mounted a similar 1980s disinformation campaign dubbed "Operation INFEKTION."

"If you prove and declare... that the virus was bred in American laboratories, the American economy will collapse under the onslaught of billions of lawsuits by millions of AIDS carriers around the world," Nikulin wrote on his website.

EVIDENCE? Nikulin offered no evidence to support his assertions, and there are reasons to doubt his veracity.

Former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler, for whom Nikulin claims to have worked, said he had no memory of Nikulin, and that his story sounded "sloppily fabricated, and not credible."

No U.N. records could be found to confirm his employment.

In an exchange with the AP over Facebook, Nikulin insisted his claims and background are accurate, though he said some records from U.N. work were destroyed in an American bombing during the Iraq invasion.

When told that Butler didn't know him, Nikulin responded "This is his opinion."



WHO HE IS: Greg Rubini is the name of an internet conspiracy theorist who claims to have high-level contacts in intelligence and listed his location on Twitter as "classified," until he was kicked off the platform. His posts have been retweeted thousands of times by supporters of QAnon, a conspiracy theory centered on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the "deep state" and a secret sect of satanic pedophiles and cannibals.

COVID CLAIM: Rubini has tweeted that Dr. Anthony Fauci created the coronavirus and that it was used as a bioweapon to reduce the world's population and undermine Trump.

EVIDENCE? Rubini's doesn't appear to be the intelligence insider that he pretends to be.

Buzzfeed attempted to track down Rubini last year and determined it is the alias of a 61-year-old Italian man who has worked in marketing and music promotions. A previous version of his Twitter bio indicates he is a fan of classic rock and the films of Stanley Kubrick.

Attempts to reach Rubini online and through business contacts were unsuccessful.

Rubini has bristled at efforts to verify his claims. When a social media user asked: "My question to you @GregRubini is, 'Where and what is your proof?' Rubini responded curtly: "And my question is: why should I give it to you?"

Twitter suspended Rubini's account in November 2020 for repeated violations of its policies.



WHO HE IS: A former lecturer on Islam at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Barrett left the university amid criticism for his claims that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were orchestrated by people linked to the U.S. and Israeli governments.

Barrett calls himself "a professional conspiracy theorist, for want of a better term" and has argued government conspiracies were behind the 2004 Madrid bombing, the 2005 London bombing, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.

COVID CLAIM: Barrett said he is "80%" sure coronavirus was created by elements within the U.S. government as a bioweapon and used to attack China.

Iran was a secondary target, he has argued. Writing for Iran's PressTV, he said the early outbreak in that country "suggests that the Americans and/or their partners the Israelis... may have deliberately attacked Iran."

Barrett further detailed his views during an interview with the AP.

"It seemed fairly obvious to me that the first hypothesis one would look at when something as extraordinary as this COVID pandemic hits, is that it would be a US bio-war strike," he said.

EVIDENCE? Barrett cited reports that the US warned its allies in November 2019 about a dangerous virus emerging from China. Barrett said that's long before authorities in China knew about the severity of the outbreak.

Official sources have denied issuing any warning. If the U.S. did know about the virus that soon, it was likely thanks to intelligence sources within China, which may have known about the virus as early as November 2019, according to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.



WHO HE IS: Montagnier is a world-renowned virologist who won the Nobel prize in 2008 for discovering HIV.

COVID CLAIM: During an April interview with the French news channel CNews, Montagnier claimed that the coronavirus did not originate in nature and was manipulated. Montagnier said that in the process of making the vaccine for AIDS, someone took the genetic material and added it to the coronavirus. Montagnier cites a retracted paper published in January from Indian scientists who had said they had found sequences of HIV in the coronavirus. AP made multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact Montagnier.

EVIDENCE: Experts who have looked at the genome sequence of the virus have said it has no HIV-1 sequences. In January, Indian scientists published a paper on bioRXIV, a repository for scientific papers that have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a traditional scientific journal. The paper said that the scientists had found "uncanny similarity of unique inserts" in COVID-19 and HIV. Social media users picked up the paper as proof that the virus was engineered. As soon as it was published, the scientific community widely debunked the paper on social media. It was later withdrawn.



WHO THEY ARE: Khamenei is the second and current Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has the final say on all matters of state, including the economy, military and health divisions.

Since being elected to office in 1981, Khamenei has maintained his skeptical view of the U.S. as Iran's foremost enemy. The tensions between the two countries boiled over in 2018 when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions. At the time, Khamenei remarked, "I said from the first day: Don't trust America."

Hossein Salami was appointed by Khamenei as commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in April 2019. He leads the country's paramilitary force that oversees Iran's ballistic missile program and responds to threats from both inside and outside the country.

COVID CLAIM: Salami declared on March 5, 2020, that Iran was engaged in a fight against a virus that might be the product of an American biological attack. On those grounds, Salami ordered a Ground Force Biological Defense Maneuver to test the country's ability to combat a biological attack. Beginning March 16, the Ground Force, in close collaboration with the Health Ministry, began holding nationwide biodefense drills.

Khamenei was among the first and most powerful world leaders to suggest the coronavirus could be a biological weapon created by the U.S. During his annual address on March 22 to millions of Iranians for the Persian New Year, Khamenei questioned why the U.S. would offer aid to countries like Iran if they themselves were suffering and accused of making the virus.

Khamenei went on to refuse U.S. assistance, saying "possibly (U.S.) medicine is a way to spread the virus more." Last month, he refused to accept coronavirus vaccines manufactured in Britain and the U.S., calling them "forbidden." The Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

EVIDENCE: There is no evidence that the U.S. created the virus or used it as a weapon to attack Iran.


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