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Alex Azar speaks during a Jan. 28 press conference on the coordinated public health response to 2019-nCoV, with Robert Redfield (L), Nancy Messonnier and Anthony Fauci. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

China agreed on Tuesday to allow international experts, expected to include Americans, to work on the ground with their scientists on the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Why it matters: Roughly 60 cases are outside mainland China, where the outbreak has infected at least 4,633 people. While China quickly provided global access to the virus genome, the epidemiology of how the virus works is hard to determine from outside China with little public data.

Details: The World Health Organization announced it will organize the international group "as soon as possible to work with Chinese counterparts on increasing understanding of the outbreak to guide global response efforts."

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a press conference, where he learned of WHO's announcement, that the U.S. would be "delighted" to participate.
  • Prior to receiving the news, Azar urged "more cooperation and transparency" from the Chinese government.

Between the lines: Researchers want to use this opportunity to study whether people can infect each other before showing symptoms, as this might change screening and quarantine practices.

  • Chinese health officials had said some asymptomatic people were infectious, but this has not been seen in the five current U.S. cases, all of whom traveled from Wuhan.
  • "Obviously, we'd have to change our operations if indeed that was a significant issue," National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease director Nancy Messonnier said.
  • In China, scientists also hope to gather data on where the virus may have originated, how fast it spreads and how severe the illnesses are. They plan to obtain specimens to build more robust diagnostics, vaccines and treatments.

The latest: While this is a "potentially very serious health threat," the risk to Americans right now remains low, Azar said. But officials are taking aggressive actions in preparation.

  • The CDC is expanding its entry screening to 20 locations from the five airports it designated last week, Messonnier said.
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci said they are working on "the next generation" of diagnostics they hope will be distributed to states and possibly other nations within a few weeks. Plus, he added they are already developing a vaccine and China is testing antiviral drugs as possible treatments.
  • The U.S. government upped its warnings to say Americans should avoid nonessential travel to China.
  • Until it's determined the virus renders this method ineffective, Messonnier said the U.S. will continue its "tried and true" strategy of contact tracing — the method of reaching out and monitoring all known contacts of any infected people.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Biden: There won't be "American forces moving into Ukraine"

President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday that he does not foresee U.S. troops moving into Ukraine.

Why it matters: Biden's comments come as tensions between Russia and Ukraine persist, and a Russian invasion of Ukraine appears increasingly likely.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

The Robinhood M&A rumor mill churns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Robinhood's valuation is now just over $11 billion, a fraction of where it traded in August and below that of its last private round of funding. Cue the M&A mongers.

Why it matters: It's not just Robinhood—falling values of growth-oriented tech stocks have raised speculation that formerly high-flying fintechs could be snapped up by more well-capitalized buyers.