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

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Former CDC Director Robert Redfield told CNN on Friday that he believes the coronavirus "escaped" from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that it was spreading as early as September or October of 2019 — though he stressed that it was his "opinion."

Why it matters: It's a stunning assertion, offered with little evidence, by the man who led the U.S. government's public health agency from the time the virus was first detected in Wuhan through the entirety of the Trump administration's response.

The big picture: The debate over the origins of the coronavirus has been ongoing since the start of the pandemic, causing rising tensions between the U.S. and China — especially during the presidency of Donald Trump, who frequently accused the Chinese government of "unleashing" a "plague" on the world.

  • The Wuhan Institute of Virology is the only facility in China permitted to handle the most dangerous known pathogens, and is located just under nine miles from the wet market where some scientists say the outbreak may have originated.
  • A World Health Organization team that traveled to Wuhan to investigate the origins of COVID-19 said it is "extremely unlikely" the virus came from a laboratory accident, and that it most likely jumped to humans via an intermediate species.
  • However, China refused to provide the WHO team with raw data about the first cases detected in Wuhan, leading the Biden administration to issue a statement expressing "deep concerns" about the investigation and demanding transparency from Beijing.

What they're saying: "I'm of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory. Escaped. Other people don't believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out," Redfield told CNN's Sanjay Gupta.

  • "It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker. ... That's not implying any intentionality. It's my opinion, right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology," he continued.
  • "I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time that the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission."

Between the lines: Lab accidents in the U.S. are not especially rare, as USA Today's Alison Young noted in a recent opinion piece arguing why the Wuhan lab theory cannot be ruled out. The CDC itself experienced a possible contamination in a lab where it was making COVID-19 test kits early in the pandemic.

What to watch: The WHO team is expected to soon publish a 300-page final report on its investigation, after scrapping plans for an interim report amid mounting tensions between the U.S. and China.

Go deeper

Mar 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

New Biden goal overshadowed

President Biden holds his first formal news conference as president in the East Room of the White House. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

President Joe Biden came to his first press conference eager to talk about COVID-19, but was instead repeatedly asked about other growing crises.

The big picture: Biden opened with a prepared statement pledging to provide 200 million vaccines in his first 100 days, doubling his previous goals.

Updated Sep 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: CDC director maintains Pfizer booster recommendation for high-risk workers — CDC director approves Pfizer boosters, adds eligibility for high-risk workers — FDA approves Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up.
  2. Health: America's mismatched COVID fears — Some experts see signs of hope as cases fall — WHO: Nearly 1 in 4 Afghan COVID hospitals shut after Taliban takeover — D.C. goes further than area counties with vaccine mandates.
  3. Politics: Bolsonaro isolating after health minister tests positive at UN summit — United Airlines says 97% of U.S. employees fully vaccinated — Mormon Church to mandate masks in temples.
  4. Education: Health care workers and teachers caught up in booster confusion — Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine — Education Department investigating Texas mask mandate ban.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

WHO: Pandemic is prolonging countdown to halt tuberculosis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Various organizations including the World Health Organization are saying early data indicate there may be a significant increase in diseases like tuberculosis in the years ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: 12 years of progress for worldwide programs to halt TB have been lost over the past 12 months of the pandemic — endangering the goal of eliminating the disease by 2030, some experts say.

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