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Initial findings by a WHO team in China investigating COVID-19's origins appear to echo Beijing's talking points.

The big picture: Identifying the true cause of the COVID-19 pandemic is key to controlling it and preventing the next one, but geopolitical disputes are getting in the way of science.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, a WHO team concluded a two-week trip to China with a press conference announcing their preliminary findings that it was "extremely unlikely" the virus originated in a lab.

  • The team said "the most likely pathway" was through an intermediary host species between humans and the virus' original animal reservoir, which is probably a bat.

Details: The possibility that the virus might have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — a theory that had been pushed by the Trump administration and at least entertained by a minority of scientists — was always an outlier, if only because we've repeatedly seen coronaviruses and other emerging pathogens jump from animals to humans.

  • But many experts have criticized the WHO team for ruling out further investigation into a lab leak with a press conference before compiling a full report with clear data.

Between the lines: It didn't escape notice that even as it dismissed the idea of a lab leak, the WHO team opened the door to the possibility that the virus actually originated outside of China, coming into the country via contamination of frozen food.

Our thought bubble: It's impossible to judge an investigation before its full findings are known, and the reality is that we may never know the true story of COVID-19's origins given the geopolitical stakes involved.

  • But this investigation was a chance to highlight the very real danger of spillover from labs doing high-tech work with animal viruses — a danger that is growing by the year — and it would be a mistake to squander it.

Go deeper

New geopolitical fears surround 2022 Beijing Olympics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Global fears of China's authoritarian rise are overshadowing the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing and sparking calls for a boycott.

Why it matters: By openly flouting human rights norms while claiming leadership of the international system, China is cracking the foundation upon which global traditions such as the Olympics are based.

Chris Cuomo accuser: On-air "hypocrisy" spurred report

Journalist Chris Cuomo. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

A woman who accused fired CNN journalist Chris Cuomo of sexual misconduct said Sunday she decided to come forward after learning of his comments about women who made similar accusations about his brother. He denies her allegations.

Why it matters: Her attorney Debra Katz said in a statement that she heard "the hypocrisy" of his on-air words about his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and was "disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women," so "retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN."

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.