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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

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz became on Sunday the first Team USA Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver .86 seconds later.

California's largest wildfire razes homes as 88 huge blazes burn in U.S.

Firefighters on the scene as dozens of homes burn during the Dixie Fire in the Indian Falls neighborhood of unincorporated Plumas County, California, on July 24. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Flames from California's biggest wildfire were engulfing homes in the state's north overnight — one of 88 large blazes raging in the U.S.

Driving the news: The Dixie Fire, which erupted July 14 near the origin of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, was tearing through the community of Indian Falls in the neighboring Plumas County, per AP.

Golfer Bryson DeChambeau will miss Olympics after testing positive for COVID

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States on the 18th tee during Day Two of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 16 in Sandwich, England. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Bryson DeChambeau has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Tokyo Olympic Games, USA Golf announced late Saturday.

What he's saying: "I am deeply disappointed not to be able to compete in the Olympics for Team USA," DeChambeau said in a statement.