World News

Covid-19 ‘started in India’ claim China researchers in new paper

China is once again trying to shift the blame for the origins of coronavirus to another country.

A team of scientists has published a paper suggesting SARS-CoV-2 existed on up to four continents before the outbreak in Wuhan at the end of last year.

It comes just as the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced it was finally beginning a long-awaited international investigation into the source of the pandemic that has shut down much of the world for nine months.

The WHO's team of experts believes the original pathogen hopped from an animal to a human, but will now attempt to establish exactly where and how this occurred.

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China does not dispute that the virus was initially detected in humans in Wuhan last December, however it is not its original birthplace.

The heated debate has seen relations between China and the USA sour after President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed the fellow superpower for the "Wuhan flu" and accused the Chinese government of covering up the truth.

Now new research led by Dr Shen Libing of the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences has theorised coronavirus originated in India, not China.

"The Early Cryptic Transmission and Evolution of Sars-CoV-2 in Human Hosts" was posted to the online pre-print platform for medical journal The Lancet on November 17.

The paper delved into information about coronavirus provided by 17 different countries and regions, and traces its origins back to either India or Bangladesh.

The findings have yet to be fully peer-reviewed.

Dr Shen said the traditional phylogenetic analysis approach didn't succeed at locating the first coronavirus strains because it used a bat virus, which wasn't the human virus' ancestor.

Instead his team counted the mutations in each viral strain, surmising that those with fewer mutations are closer to the original ancestor.

They found some strains had even fewer mutations than the first samples from Wuhan, and concluded: "Wuhan cannot be the first place where human-to-human Sars-CoV-2 transmission happened."


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  • The researchers claim the least mutated strain was found in eight countries from four continents: Australia, Bangladesh, Greece, the US, Russia, Italy, India and the Czech Republic.

    But the virus couldn't have jumped to humans from all these places at the same time, so the first outbreak must have happened in a region with a lot of genetic diversity — and nowhere is more genetically diverse than India and Bangladesh.

    They theorised extreme weather may have triggered the pandemic, pointing to May 2019 when India had its second-longest heatwave on record. This would have meant more humans and animals sharing drinking water sources.

    "Both the least mutated strain's geographic information and the strain diversity suggest that the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the earliest human-to-human Sars-CoV-2 transmission occurred," the paper concluded.

    But the findings have been criticised by other experts, who have said the incorrect software and research principles were used.

    David Robertson from Glasgow University told Mail Online the paper is "very flawed" and said "it adds nothing to our understanding of coronavirus".

    Marc Suchard, an expert from the University of California, told the South China Morning Post: "Picking the viral sequence that appears to have the least number of differences to the others in an arbitrary collection is unlikely to yield the progenitor."

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    The military’s role in a vaccine will be strictly behind the scenes, despite Trump’s claims.

    When President Trump talks about efforts to deliver the coronavirus vaccine to millions of Americans eager to return to their normal lives, he often says he is “counting on the military” to get it done.

    Mr. Trump has given the impression that troops would be packing up vials, transporting them from factories to pharmacies and perhaps even administering shots. And, at times, military officers working on the sprawling interagency program to move those vaccine doses from drug companies into doctors’ offices have indicated the same thing.

    In reality, the role of the military has been less public and more pervasive than this characterization suggests.

    When companies have lacked the physical spaces needed to conduct their drug trials, the Defense Department has acquired trailers and permits to create pop-up medical sites in parking lots. When a required piece of plastic or glass was in short supply, the military leveraged a law passed during the Korean War to force manufacturers to move them to the front of the line. Should a hurricane hit somewhere, blocking trucks, the military has transportation ready.

    But the distribution of vaccines will be left largely to their producers and commercial transportation companies. Black Hawk helicopters will not be landing next to neighborhood drugstore to drop off doses.

    Scores of Defense Department employees are laced through the government offices involved in the effort, making up a large portion of the federal personnel devoted to the effort. Those numbers have led some current and former officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to privately grumble that the military’s role in Operation Warp Speed was too large for a task that is, at its core, a public health campaign.

    “Frankly, it has been breathtaking to watch,” said Paul Ostrowski, a retired Army lieutenant general and the director of supply, production and distribution for Operation Warp Speed.

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    Auckland Zoo’s repatriation of elephants ‘unforgivable’ – animal rights group

    By Eva Corlett of RNZ

    An animal rights group is dismayed Auckland Zoo is relocating its two elephants – Burma and Anjalee – overseas, saying it will cause the animals distress.

    The zoo attempted to start a breeding programme in 2011 but problems have meant both elephants will need to live with a family herd at another facility overseas.

    The two female Asian elephants have become fixtures of the zoo – often sighted by those walking the neighbouring Western Springs Park.

    Auckland Zoo director Kevin Buley said it was a hard decision to make but both elephants needed a family herd for their long-term wellbeing.

    “Over the past five years, changing circumstances beyond our control mean that we are no longer in a position to give them the long-term future they need,” Buley said.

    Anjalee needed to have a baby soon to avoid long-term reproductive health troubles, which elephants face if they do not breed.

    But the World Animal Protection group said it was “unforgivable” that both elephants had to embark on an overseas relocation that would be “stressful for both animals”.

    “This could have been avoided,” its head of campaigning, Ben Pearson, said.

    The group raised concerns with Auckland Council about problems with in-captivity breeding and the welfare of the animals 10 years ago, Pearson said.

    “Our major concern was that we didn’t want Auckland Zoo to breed a family of captive elephants.

    The idea they would breed a whole new generation in captivity is something we were totally opposed to,” he said.

    The success rate for breeding elephants in captivity is poor, he said, and this situation underscores that fact.

    “Our concerns were correct and well-placed at the time and it’s a shame that [Anjalee] was brought down here in the first place.”

    Pearson said this wasn’t a ‘told you so’ moment but an occasion to reflect on how wild animals don’t belong in captive environments, especially large animals such as elephants.

    “Once you actually keep an animal in captivity, to the point where it can’t be released into the wild, particularly when you breed them in captivity, you’re faced with an impossible position – you can’t release them into the wild but keeping them in captivity is a poor option as well.”

    He said the animals would have become habituated now to Auckland Zoo and its keepers, and being uplifted could cause them stress and confusion.

    Zoo defends programme

    But Auckland Zoo stood by its decision to attempt the programme. It said it helped raise awareness of international elephant conservation efforts.

    Three million people had interacted with the two elephants since 2015, and the zoo’s internal research shows 1.5 million of those went on to take conservation action, Buley said.

    “In my humble opinion, that’s a pretty amazing success. We could in no way mark the programme as a failure, since we’ve had Anjalee with us.”

    But Ben Pearson rejected the idea that conservation efforts can be boosted by seeing animals in captivity. He added that anyone can see and appreciate the wonder of wild animals through a good nature documentary.

    “In captive environments, those animals are not engaging in natural behaviours, so any kind of education purpose is undercut by that fact.”

    Buley said the pair of elephants had “exceptionally happy” lives at the zoo, which made it difficult to send them overseas to ensure their long-term health.

    There will be a lot of preparation for sending the elephants overseas, which will include sending the keepers to get them settled.

    “From the experience we have and the expertise we have, we don’t really have any concerns.”

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    Fewer kindergarten students means money problems for schools and learning concerns for children.

    Kindergarten enrollment in American schools has plummeted during the pandemic, potentially setting back educational and social development for children at a critical age and impacting public school budgets for years to come.

    Most states don’t require kindergarten attendance. As a result, the drop in enrollment at that age has been steeper than at other levels — down 14 percent in Arizona, for example, compared to 5 percent across all grades. Nicole Swartz, an Arizona parent who did not enroll her son this fall, told, “I just really disagreed with just the mental well-being of what would happen with a 6-year-old sitting at a laptop all day.”

    Parents made similar decisions across the country. Pre-K and kindergarten enrollment fell 18 percent in Massachusetts, compared to declines of almost 4 percent for other grades. In Ohio, kindergarten enrollment declined in nearly every local school district.

    The youngest students, many experts agree, are worst suited for remote learning. They’re squirmy. They can’t figure out how to work computers without help. And much of their learning is social, emotional and motor skill-based.

    But younger students might also be best positioned to return to schools safely, at least for now. Growing evidence suggests that they are less likely to transmit the coronavirus to adults or to suffer severe symptoms.

    Some parents have turned to parochial and private schools, which could have a significant impact on public schools in states that use enrollment to allocate funding. That has already happened in South Dakota’s largest district, Sioux Falls, where 300 fewer students may mean a loss of $2.5 million in state financial aid.

    In Georgia, where kindergarten enrollment dropped 11 percent this fall, public schools could lose $100 million in funding.

    “If you lose five students in a classroom, you can’t turn down the heat by five students,” Stephen Owens, a senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, told WABE. “You can’t fire one-twentieth of a teacher.”

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    Maradona death: Anger as ‘scoundrel’ has photo taken ‘touching footballer’s body’

    Diego Maradona’s lawyer has threatened to take legal action against the “scoundrel” who had a photo taken next to the football icon’s open casket as his body lay in state in Buenos Aires.

    In an image widely shared online, a man can be seen giving a thumbs up to the camera with one hand, while the other appears to be touching the forehead of the late World Cup winner, who died of a heart attack on Wednesday, aged 60.

    Venting his anger on Twitter, Maradona‘s lawyer Matias Morla, wrote: “I am going to personally take care of finding the scoundrel who took that photograph.

    “For the memory of my friend I will not rest until I pay for such an aberration.

    “All those responsible for such an act of cowardice will pay.”

    The man in the photo was among three people hired by funeral parlour Sepelios Pinier to help prepare Maradona’s body and carry the coffin, according to Argentinian TV channel TN.

    It said the manager Matias Picon was “devastated” and claimed the trio were not directly employed by them and that they were “outsourced” by a third party.

    Speaking to TN, he said he did not know if Maradona’s relatives would now sue them, and said: “The family trusted us, we have been working with them for a long time.

    “My father is 75-years-old and he is crying, I am crying, my brother too, we are destroyed.”

    Maradona’s funeral sparked clashes in Argentina after thousands of fans were unable to get a glimpse of his coffin.

    Tens of thousands managed to pay their respects on Thursday as his body lay in state, before viewing was cut short at 6pm by the family, who wanted his body taken for burial.

    Fans had gathered across the city, adorned in flags and football strips and singing songs, in the hope of being able to pay their respects.

    However, people became impatient at being unable to see the casket and threw bottles, bricks and metal fencing at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

    Only family members and close friends attended, and the footballing legend was buried next to the graves of his parents, Dalma and Diego.

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    UK snow alert: Britain facing 11 DAY onslaught – 10cm flurries to hit in SUB-ZERO plunge

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    Weather forecasters expect the start of December to be characterised by plunging temperatures, icy winds, fog and snowfall. Weather charts predict Scotland to be especially affected by the wintry conditions, with 11 days of snow forecast from Thursday December 3.

    Weather maps from WXCharts show snowfall is expected from the early hours of Thursday December 3 in the Highlands region of Scotland.

    While just 5cm is expected to start with, heavier snow showers are forecast on Sunday December 6, with up to 10cm.

    The forecasters expect the risk of snow to continue into the following week, with flurries expected every day until Sunday 13.

    Netweather also predicts snow to fall over the same period, with weather maps showing a high chance of snow on December 3, with the risk increasing as we head into the weekend.

    Netweather’s snow risk chart shows there is a 100 percent chance of snowfall across Scotland on Saturday December 5 at 9am.

    They also forecast high snow risk on December 6, 9, 10, 11 and 12.

    Major snow risk is shown with bright colours, with red, dark red and white indicating between 80-100 percent risk of snow.

    Weather maps from WXCharts also show the period is expected to be characterised by freezing temperatures.

    JUST IN: UK weather today LIVE: Dense icy fog lingers after Met Office warning

    One chart, valid for Saturday December 5 at 6pm, shows the entire UK turn blue, indicating that temperatures are forecast to be below 0C.

    Other maps by WXCharts show the north of the UK is expected to bare the brunt of the cold temperatures, with the mercury forecast to plunge to -2C on December 6 at 12pm.

    The south of England is expected to see temperatures stay in the low single digits.

    Bookmakers Coral have evens for this winter to be the coldest on record in the UK.

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    Coral’s Harry Aitkenhead said: “The outlook for this winter looks very cold and we make it just evens now that we go on to suffer the coldest since records began in the UK.”

    They also have odds of 3/1 for snow to fall in Edinburgh on Christmas Day and 5-1 for a White Christmas for Londoners.

    Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham, Belfast stand on 4/1.

    The Met Office expects the period from December 2 to December 11 to feel colder, with spells of rain and gales forecast.

    They said: “High pressure and generally settled weather will likely give way to wetter, and at times windier, conditions through the first week of December.

    “Outbreaks of rain are likely in most areas, notably northern areas at first, and perhaps more southern areas into the weekend.

    “Gales may also develop, these most likely for exposed western areas. Later in the period it may well turn more settled, though colder, with a return of night frost and fog.

    “Some showers are likely too, these perhaps wintry at times in the north.

    “Temperatures may start off near normal, though often feeling colder in windier and wetter spells.

    “Below normal temperatures are then slightly more likely for later in the period.”

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    3 Brilliant Ways to Transform Leftover Stuffing

    Every year, I look forward to Thanksgiving as an opportunity to eat bread by the spoonful. That’s all stuffing is: bread, which is already delicious, made more perfect by being ripped into bite-size bits, tossed with seasonings and mix-ins, and baked until crisp on the outside but still squishy and soft on the inside. It’s forkable, ideal for sopping and ready to play nice with whatever else is on the plate.

    I grew up in a Stove Top household, but fancied up, with milk swapped in for water, and seared giblets and sautéed vegetables added to the stuffing mix. It would appear once a year alongside all the classics: jellied cranberry sauce from the can, sliced thick along every other ridge; creamy green bean casserole topped with French’s fried onions; and a basket of doughy Pillsbury crescent rolls.

    Over time, we’ve moved away from the traditional Thanksgiving spread, sometimes opting for roast duck instead of turkey, and losing the canned sauce for fresh cranberry-pomegranate relish. But I still love a casserole dish filled with stuffing; nothing else hits me with all the nostalgia of those cream-of-something soup years.

    I also believe that stuffing is the pinnacle of Thanksgiving leftovers. Not only can you make stuffing with any bread, mix-ins and seasonings, it’s also a chameleon of an ingredient, ready to take any form you want to give it — quite literally. I’m enamored by how I can smash and squash stuffing, bend it to my will, to make something totally new. Show me a roast turkey that can do that!

    Anywhere you might find bread, stuffing can step in and step it up, bringing with it a certain holiday flair. For my Thanksgiving leftovers turkey club, I press the stuffing into a big slab as thick as a slice of bread before cutting it into squares and griddling until seared and toasty. Each square then replaces the middle slice of bread in my turkey club, a distinctive divider for the rest of the sandwich layers. Everyone knows the sandwich you make the day after Thanksgiving is the best part of the holiday, and now it may be the best sandwich you eat all year.

    This pressed-and-fried technique is useful beyond sandwiches. I also like to squeeze stuffing into a loaf pan, so it’s dense and thick, before chilling and cutting it into chunky cubes. I’ll fry the cubes until they are crackly and golden on the outside and tender and custardy on the inside. These delicate yet rich stuffing pieces top a salad of mixed greens and shaved crunchy vegetables that’s dressed with cranberry vinaigrette. It’s hot and cold, creamy and crisp, and a way to eat holiday food while technically also having a salad.

    Anything bread can do, stuffing can do better, and this is especially true of dumpling soup. I mash leftover stuffing with a splash of turkey stock until all the big nuggets are broken up. Then I’ll stir in eggs, flour and baking powder to make a dumpling dough. I’ll simmer a simple bone broth with the turkey carcass — another hero of Thanksgiving leftovers — and then load up the soup with kale and sweet potato before dropping in dollops of the stuffing dumpling mix. The dumplings soak up the broth, growing plump and tender, while also adding body to the soup. Because the stuffing is already packed with flavor, the dumplings are too, without any extra help from you.

    Regardless of what your holiday plans are, whether you’re cooking for only a few people or skipping the turkey altogether, go ahead and make all the stuffing. I will be making a family-size casserole for my teeny pod of two because I am here for the leftovers. I’ll be playing with my food, transforming stuffing into something new, and I hope you will be too.

    Recipes: Best Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich | Stuffing Panzanella With Cranberry Vinaigrette | Stuffing Dumpling Soup

    And to Drink …

    Turkey sandwiches with cranberry? Salad with stuffing croutons? Soup? Regardless of how you decide to eat your leftovers, your best choice for wine is to finish whichever bottles were left over from the holiday feast. Just as you are efficiently creating dishes that may be even more satisfying than the original meal, why not be as economical with the wine? Whether Beaujolais, Oregon chardonnay or any bottles you were creative enough to open the night before, enjoy them in the same spirit of relief and joy that comes with a successful meal and the realization that you don’t have to do it again for an entire year. You drank all the wine last night? Then reward yourself with the beer or cider of your choice. ERIC ASIMOV

    Follow NYT Food on Twitter and NYT Cooking on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.

    Source: Leftovers with Stuffing


    World News

    ‘Embarrassment for EU!’ Verhofstadt sparks backlash after stepping in over Brussels crisis

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    Both nations are currently at loggerheads with the bloc over an investigation into controversial legal reforms which Brussels claims undermine the independence of judiciaries and media. The EU is threatening to attach conditions to the handout of EU grants in a move which has enraged both Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki, the Prime Ministers of Hungary and Poland respectively.

    Speaking in Budapest yesterday, they warned they were ready to veto the EU’s £1.6trillion budget unless Brussels relents.

    However, MEP Mr Verhofstadt, who was the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, tweeted: “No, Mr Orbán and Mr Morawiecki, the rule of law is not a question of sovereignty or subsidiarity but a founding principle of the European Union to protect our citizens.

    “That’s why Poland and Hungary signed up to it when they joined.

    I am proud to be an Englishman and from the Country that told you all to get lost

    Jimmy E Moorby

    “And why it is non-negotiable now!”

    His post prompted a mixed reaction on Twitter.

    Angry at the EU not going far enough, Antonio Santo asked: “How much longer before the EU puts these people in their place?

    Ted Loch-Temzelides added: “Such an embarrassment for the EU.

    “There should be a mechanism for kicking Hungary and Poland out of the block as they are sinking more and more towards authoritarianism. Where does the EU draw the line?”

    But, some commentators appeared to attack the MEP over the EU’s demands.

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    JimmyEMoorby commented: “I am proud to be an Englishman and from the country that told you all to get lost.

    “I have no doubt you will try to bully us and demoralize us in the coming years but we will win.”

    Steve Hills added: “Hmmm. A sovereign state being ‘stopped’ from disagreeing eh.

    “Christ I’m glad we’re nearly shot of the EU.”

    Made in Devon 63, wrote: “The moral of the story is never, ever sign up to anything remotely connected with the EU because they will stitch you up and rip you off. That’s why we left.”

    Other critics asked why Mr Verhofstadt felt he had the right to tell the two eastern European nations what to do.

    Jacek Wiscicki asked: “Who are you to decide for Poland and Hungary?”

    Schwimm Richtung added: “They do have a law in Hungary and it rules there. Problem solved.”

    Mr Verhofstadt was not without his supporters though.

    Arne Visser said: “Thanks for holding up the EU values strongly!

    “For Poland & Hungary it is a matter of (painful) time before the regimes get voted out by the younger, more democratic values oriented generations, understanding that only TOGETHER in a strong EU we’re able to face the many challenges!”

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    Some areas in Tier 3 ‘could have restrictions eased’ before Christmas, MP says

    Brits could get a festive boost as hopes are raised that Tier 3 areas might have rules eased before Christmas.

    Ministers are seeking to see off a growing Tory revolt after Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that 99% of the country will face tough rules after lockdown.

    Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said on Friday that there is “every reason” to expect some areas to be moved into lower tiers following the first two-week review of the system.

    When the national lockdown ends on December 2, each area of England will have to adhere to local restrictions that are similar to – but stricter than – the original tier system from October.

    As England battles the second wave of coronavirus experts decided that only three areas will be allowed into Tier 1, which sees the loosest restrictions.

    Only Cornwall and the isles of White and Scilly have been put into Tier 1, with the majority of England being plunged straight into ‘high risk’ Tier 2.

    Swathes of the north and midlands, including Yorkshire, Lancashire, Blackpool and Birmingham – as well as Kent and Berkshire in the south, have been put under Tier 3.

    But Mr Jenrick said this morning Brits can expect to see movement in the tiers, raising hopes that some will see relaxed restrictions before Christmas.

    • Tier 1, 2 and 3 shopping rules and updates from Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Aldi

    He told Sky News : “At that point we – advised by the experts – will look at each local authority area and see whether there is potential to move down the tiers.

    “There were a number of places which were quite finely balanced judgments where they were on the cusp of different tiers. Those are the places that are more likely to be in that position.”

    Some 32 million people in England – just over 56% of the population – will be in Tier 2, including Liverpool and London.

    And nearly 42% – 23 million people – will be in the top level, infuriating some MPs who say their constituencies have already suffered due to the national lockdown.

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    Some have threatened to vote down the tiers when they are presented to the Commons next week to be made into law.

    Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbenchers told BBC Radio 4 he would vote against the measures.

    He fumed: "I do think that the policies have been far too authoritarian.

    "I think they have interfered in people's private and personal lives in a way which is unacceptable."

    Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the previous tier system did not manage to decrease the infection rate enough.

    he said: “The message is that the tiers worked in terms of slowing but didn’t work in terms of flattening and reversing it.

    “The national lockdown looks as if it has flattened it and is sending it downwards and it is important we do bring it down because numbers remain high.”

    Sir Patrick said one in 85 people in the country have coronavirus at the moment, numbers which he said were “very high”.

    Source: Read Full Article

    World News

    Tiny kitten ‘ripped apart’ after cruel thugs tie firework to its body

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    A kitten suffered horrifying injuries after evil thugs tied a firework to its body – blowing one leg completely off.

    Little seven-month-old Boris went missing on November 5, says owner Lennie Cleary from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and she didn't find him until the next day.

    When she found him the next day he was was covered in blood and his "skin had been ripped apart", so Lennie and her daughter immediately took him to the vets.

    The tiny defenceless animal had been so severely injured that Lennie didn’t even realise at first that one of Boris' legs had been "blown away".

    Boris' owner was told by the vet that they had found evidence that someone had tied a firework to the little cat, causing the nightmare injuries.

    Lennie told CoventryLive: "She told us that he had no front leg – his skin had melted and charred and his leg had been blown away right up to his shoulder.

    "She said in her experience someone had tied a rocket or something to him and it had just missed his jugular.

    "He has scars from under his ear, down the side of his neck and down the side of his chest. He had 30-plus stitches and he is still with us."

    • Cat dies after being 'raped by human or large animal' leaving owner heartbroken

    Lennie put a photo showing her cat’s lifer-threatening injuries son her local Facebook group to warn other pet-owners in her home town of Leamington to be on the lookout for irresponsible firework users.

    "The vets actually rang me to say 'can you set up a fundraising page or something please as people keep ringing us with donations or to see how Boris is'.

    "So my daughter set up the GoFundMe page to try and get a few hundred pounds and now it has over £4,000."

    She continued: "Boris has had what he needs from the money and the rest will go towards a good cause to help other animals who are injured in a similar way."

    Warwickshire Police opened an investigation into the attack, but a spokesman later told CoventryLive: "The investigation has been filed due to no suspect being identified.

    "The investigation will be reopened if new information comes to light."

    • Cats

    Source: Read Full Article