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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.

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

6 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.