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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A World Health Organization team is beginning a long-delayed investigation in China into how SARS-CoV-2 emerged, as a theory about a possible lab accident is raised in a major magazine.

Why it matters: Understanding the origins of COVID-19 is vital if we're going to prevent the next pandemic.

Driving the news: A year after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in China, a team of 10 international scientists under the auspices of the WHO is set to investigate the origins of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

  • The investigation will likely focus on fleshing out the prevailing theory of how the outbreak began: a bat coronavirus that somehow made its way to human beings in an example of zoonotic spillover.

The other side: But in a 12,000-word story published yesterday in New York magazine, the writer Nicholson Baker argued COVID-19 "was an accident."

  • Baker wrote it is possible, and even probable in his view, that what became SARS-CoV-2 "was made more infectious in one or more laboratories" through what is known as "gain of function" research, and somehow escaped into the wild.

Reality check: While Baker noted suspicious circumstances — like the fact that Wuhan is the only Chinese city that has a maximum security biosafety lab, where work had been done in the past on bat coronaviruses — there is little conclusive evidence in the piece that the virus originated in a lab.

  • "This article is filled with wild speculation about SARS-CoV-2's origins and signifies a lack of understanding around basic genetics and viral evolution," tweeted Nsikan Akpan, a pathobiologist and health and science editor at the radio station WNYC.

Yes, but: Speculation aside, there are still major questions about how COVID-19 emerged.

  • An AP investigation last week found Beijing has heavily censored research into origins of SARS-CoV-2, even as Chinese state media has pushed theories that the virus first emerged overseas.

The big picture: Baker is right to note the growing risk posed by gain of function experiments that involve creating new, more virulent or contagious strains of existing viruses in the lab in an effort to predict and prepare for future pandemics.

Go deeper: The coronavirus pandemic reawakens bioweapons fears

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Updated Dec 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Americans shrug off Omicron, Axios-Ipsos poll finds — CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise."
  2. Vaccines: Omicron gives a shot to boosters — U.S. announces $400M for global COVID vaccine distribution — Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles down.
  3. States: Gov. Hochul will order some NY hospitals to halt elective surgeries — Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers.
  4. World: EU drug regulator backs mixing COVID vaccines — Poor global equity likely in COVID pill access — CDC raises travel advisories for France, Portugal to highest level amid COVID surge.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
27 mins ago - World

Army to award Purple Hearts to troops injured in Iran missile attack

Damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing U.S. and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in January 2020. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

The Army has approved 39 more Purple Hearts for U.S. soldiers wounded in an Iranian military ballistic missile attack on an Iraq base in January 2020, the Army Times first reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: Most of these soldiers sustained brain injuries, per the Army Times. Then-President Trump dismissed their injuries at the time as "headaches" and "not very serious," sparking backlash from some veterans groups.