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  1. Abstract

    In this work, the COVID-19 pandemic burden in Ukraine is investigated retrospectively using the excess mortality measures during 2020–2021. In particular, the epidemic impact on the Ukrainian population is studied via the standardized both all-cause and cause-specific mortality scores before and during the epidemic. The excess mortality counts during the pandemic were predicted based on historic data using parametric and nonparametric modeling and then compared with the actual reported counts to quantify the excess. The corresponding standardized mortalityP-score metrics were also compared with the neighboring countries. In summary, there were three “waves” of excess all-cause mortality in Ukraine in December 2020, April 2021 and November 2021 with excess of 32%, 43% and 83% above the expected mortality. Each new “wave” of the all-cause mortality was higher than the previous one and the mortality “peaks” corresponded in time to three “waves” of lab-confirmed COVID-19 mortality. The lab-confirmed COVID-19 mortality constituted 9% to 24% of the all-cause mortality during those three peak months. Overall, the mortality trends in Ukraine over time were similar to neighboring countries where vaccination coverage was similar to that in Ukraine. For cause-specific mortality, the excess observed was due to pneumonia as well as circulatory system disease categories that peaked at the same times as the all-cause and lab-confirmed COVID-19 mortality, which was expected. The pneumonias as well as circulatory system disease categories constituted the majority of all cases during those peak times. The seasonality in mortality due to the infectious and parasitic disease category became less pronounced during the pandemic. While the reported numbers were always relatively low, alcohol-related mortality also declined during the pandemic.

     
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  2. Abstract Public health intervention to contain the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic significantly differed by country since the SARS-CoV-2 spread varied regionally in time and in scale. Since vaccinations were not available until the end of 2020 non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) remained the only strategies to mitigate the pandemic spread at that time. Belarus in Europe is one of a few countries with a high Human Development Index where no lockdowns have ever been implemented and only limited NPIs have taken place for a period of time. Therefore, the Belarusian case was evaluated and compared in terms of the mortality burden. Since the COVID-19 mortality was low, the excess overall mortality was studied for Belarus. Since no overall mortality data have been reported past June 2020 the analysis was complemented by the study of Google Trends funeral-related search queries up until August 2021. Depending on the model, the Belarusian mortality for June of 2020 was 29 to 39% higher than otherwise expected with the corresponding estimated excess death was from 2953 to 3690 while the reported COVID-19 mortality for June 2020 was only 157 cases. The Belarusian excess mortality for June 2020 was higher than for all neighboring countries with an excess of 5% for Poland, 5% for Ukraine, 8% for Russia, 11% for Lithuania and 11% for Latvia. The relationship between Google Trends and mortality time series was studied using Granger’s test and the results were statistically significant. The results for Google Trends searches did vary by key phrase with the largest excess of 138% for April 2020 and 148% for September 2020 was observed for a key phrase “coffin”, while the largest excess of 218% for January 2021 was observed for “funeral services”. In summary, there are indications of the excess overall mortality in Belarus, which is larger than the reported COVID-19-related mortality. 
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  3. The term “ancient DNA” (aDNA) is coming of age, with over 1200 hits in the PubMed database, beginning in the early 1980s with the studies of “molecular paleontology.” Rooted in cloning and limited sequencing of DNA from ancient remains during the pre-PCR era, the field has made incredible progress since the introduction of PCR and next-generation sequencing. Over the last decade, aDNA analysis ushered in a new era in genomics and became the method of choice for reconstructing the history of organisms, their biogeography, and migration routes, with applications in evolutionary biology, population genetics, archaeo-genetics, paleo-epidemiology, and many other areas. This change was brought by development of new strategies for coping with the challenges in studying aDNA due to damage and fragmentation, scarce samples, significant historical gaps, and limited applicability of population genetics methods. In this review, we describe the state-of-the-art achievements in aDNA studies, with particular focus on human evolution and demographic history. We present the current experimental and theoretical procedures for handling and analyzing highly degraded aDNA. We also review the challenges in the rapidly growing field of ancient epigenomics. Advancement of ancient DNA tools and methods signifies a new era in population genetics and evolutionary medicine research. 
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