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The Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images The COVID lab-leak theory goes mainstream

A group of high-profile scientists published a letter calling for renewed investigation into the origins of COVID-19 — including the theory that it spilled out of a virology lab.

Why it matters: The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 was created in a Chinese lab and accidentally escaped — rather than emerging naturally from an animal — was initially dismissed as a conspiracy theory. But the letter shows a potential lab leak is increasingly being taken seriously.

Driving the news: In the letter published Thursday in the journal Science, a group of prominent epidemiologists and biologists wrote "theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable."

Flashback: A World Health Organization-led investigation in China earlier this year concluded a zoonotic spillover from an animal was "likely to very likely," while a lab leak of a human-made virus was dismissed as "extremely unlikely."

  • The letter in Science, though, notes "the two theories were not given balanced consideration," with only four out of the report's 313 pages addressing the possibility of a laboratory accident.

Between the lines: In a contentious exchange with Sen. Rand Paul this week, Anthony Fauci said he was "fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China," while denying the National Institutes of Health had funded any "gain of function" research in China's Wuhan Institute of Virology.

  • Former New York Times science journalist Nicholas Wade raised more questions recently with a long article noting, among other things, the paucity of any clear evidence of a zoological spillover more than 16 months after the pandemic began.

The bottom line: Given the Chinese government's opacity on the issue, we may never know the true origins of a virus that has killed millions of people.

Go deeper

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Emergency room visits of all kinds dropped amid the pandemic — NY smart-thermometer network could predict next COVID wave.
  2. Vaccines: FDA clears 10 million J&J vaccine doses from contaminated Baltimore plant — Moderna asks FDA to expand COVID-19 vaccine authorization to adolescents.
  3. Cities: Seattle becomes first major city to get 70% fully vaccinated — Schools nationwide prepare for packed kindergartens this fall.
  4. Work: Goldman Sachs requires U.S. employees to report vaccination status.
  5. Politics: U.S. to buy 500 million Pfizer doses to share with the world — State Department eases travel advisories for dozens of countries.
  6. World: Moscow orders new restrictions amid surge in COVID-19 cases — 12 Venezuela players, staff contract COVID-19 before Copa America opener — 2021 already has a higher global coronavirus death toll than 2020.
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Back to normal without herd immunity.
  8. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
John Frank, author of Denver
May 14, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado ends most COVID-19 limits, lifts mask order

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis adjusts his face mask. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado will no longer require face masks in most settings — even for unvaccinated people — and expects to lift all public health guidelines at the end of the month.

Driving the news: The state's move goes beyond the latest CDC guidelines that allow vaccinated people to go maskless because it also applies to those who are not immunized.

14 mins ago - World

Putin denies Russia is behind cyberattacks ahead of Biden summit

In an exclusive interview with NBC's "Today," Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that Russia is waging cyber warfare against the United States and refused to guarantee opposition leader Alexei Navalny — whose name he would not say — will leave prison alive.

Why it matters: Cyberattacks by Russian intelligence and Russian-speaking criminal groups, as well as the Kremlin's attempted assassination and jailing of Navalny, are among the topics President Biden is expected to raise at his Geneva summit with Putin on Wednesday.