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A man enters the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 15, 2021, in Geneva. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Experts studying the origins of COVID-19 for the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the study has stalled and the "window of opportunity" is closing to trace the virus' origins.

Why it matters: The scientists warn in an essay in the journal Nature that any further delay "will render some of the studies biologically impossible," hampering understanding of the origins of the pandemic.

  • Understanding the origins of the coronavirus and how it spread can help prevent future pandemics.

Driving the news: The Chinese government rejected the WHO's follow-up investigation as recently as July and has impeded the investigation, according to the report.

  • China's government "was and is still reluctant to share raw data" with the investigative team, the report in Nature states.

Details: "[The] window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China. SARS-CoV-2 antibodies wane, so collecting further samples and testing people who might have been exposed before December 2019 will yield diminishing returns," per the scientists' report.

  • The essay called for the "scientific community and country leaders to join forces to expedite the phase 2 studies detailed here, while there is still time."

Of note: The Biden administration has conducted its own investigation into COVID's origins, "including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident."

  • A White House official on Wednesday acknowledged receipt of the findings of that study, and said that an "unclassified summary of key judgments" would be made public "soon."
  • Nearly two dozen AAPI civil rights groups last week warned the administration that such a study "will put our communities at risk" and legitimizes the "lab leak" conspiracy theory.
  • Thousands of anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported since March 2020, nearly half including anti-Chinese or anti-immigrant rhetoric, according to the organization Stop AAPI Hate.

What they're saying: Fu Cong, a Chinese Foreign Ministry director general, accused the U.S. on Wednesday of "politicizing" the matter in order to blame China's government, AP notes.

  • Fu said at a briefing that "scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S."
  • "If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China," he said, per AP.
  • Fu added that if WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus "believes that we should not rule out the hypothesis of a lab leak ... he needs to go to the U.S. labs."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Fu.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 26, 2021 - Health

Prime minister flags vaccine mandate for 40% of New Zealand workforce

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during an October COVID-19 briefing in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Robert Kitchin - Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for businesses, as the government pushes to reach a nationwide 90% vaccination target.

Why it matters: Under the new COVID-19 Protection Framework, businesses must require vaccine certificates from customers if they're in close contact with them. Ardern said at a briefing Tuesday that such venues wishing to operate, including hair salons, bars, restaurants and gyms, must ensure staff is vaccinated.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Oct 26, 2021 - Health

FDA panel endorses Pfizer vaccines for 5-to-11-year-olds

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Members of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine expert panel Tuesday endorsed a two-dose series of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5–11. The final vote was 17 members in favor, with one member abstaining.

Why it matters: While not binding, the decision is a long-awaited step toward getting COVID vaccines in the arms of some of the youngest Americans potentially in time to get many fully vaccinated in advance of the holiday season.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot — FDA panel endorses Pfizer vaccines for 5-11 year olds — Moderna says vaccine shows strong immune response in kids
  2. Health: COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought — 96% of Tyson Foods employees vaccinated ahead of mandate deadline — U.S. releases updated vaccination, testing rules for foreign travelers
  3. Politics: Louisiana lifts mask mandate except for some schools — Alabama governor orders state agencies to fight federal vaccine mandate — Axios-Ipsos poll: Confidence in Biden COVID recovery tumbles
  4. Education: Benefits of vaccine for children outweigh risks, FDA says — Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states — LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.