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The WHO's headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Geopolitical tensions are foiling efforts to get to the bottom of how COVID-19 originated.

Why it matters: Insights into how COVID-19 began can help us prevent future pandemics — especially if it involved any kind of leak or accident at a virology lab.

Driving the news: The findings of a WHO-led mission to Wuhan, China, earlier this year to investigate the origins of COVID-19 are expected by mid-March, officials from the health agency said in a press conference Friday, after plans for an interim report were apparently scrapped.

Context: The WHO team received international criticism when its members concluded in a press conference at the end of its trip that a lab accident was "extremely unlikely" while remaining open to the possibility — promoted by Beijing — that the virus originated elsewhere and had been introduced to China via contaminated frozen food.

Be smart: The most likely explanation still remains the simplest: The coronavirus jumped from an animal host in China to humans, the kind of zoonotic spillover seen in countless other emerging outbreaks.

  • But a pandemic threat from lab leaks is real, and as our ability to manipulate viruses grows, so will that danger.
  • While we're limited in our ability to prevent zoonotic spillovers, we can and should be able to do much more to monitor and regulate the kind of research that could lead to the accidental introduction of a new virus.

The bottom line: Without much better transparency, we're unlikely to ever know for sure how COVID-19 began — and what steps we need to take to prevent it from happening again.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
49 mins ago - Technology

Meet your doctor's AI assistant

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Artificial intelligence is breaking into the doctor's office, with new models that can transcribe, analyze and even offer predictions based on written notes and conversations between physicians and their patients.

Why it matters: AI models can increasingly be trained on what we tell our doctors, now that they're starting to understand our written notes and even our conversations. That will open up new possibilities for care — and new concerns about privacy.

What we know about the victims of the Indianapolis mass shooting

Officials load a body into a vehicle at the site of the mass shooting in Indianapolis. Photo:

Eight people who were killed along with several others who were injured in a Thursday evening shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis have been identified by local law enforcement.

The big picture: The Sikh Coalition said at least four of the eight victims were members of the Indianapolis Sikh community.

Pompeo, wife misused State Dept. resources, federal watchdog finds

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The State Department's independent watchdog found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department employees to perform personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including picking up their dog and making private dinner reservations.

Why it matters: The report comes as Pompeo pours money into a new political group amid speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run.