Amy Qin interviews “Bat Woman” Dr Shi Zhengli…

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A rare interview with Shi Zhengli
To the Chinese government and public, Shi Zhengli is a hero of the country’s success in curbing the epidemic and a victim of malicious conspiracy theories. But to a growing chorus of scientists and American politicians, she is the key to figuring out whether the coronavirus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where she runs a prominent lab.
Throughout the pandemic, Shi has rarely spoken to the media — until my colleague Amy Qin recently called her up.
“I found her number and I called it at night,” Amy said. “I was surprised that she picked up.”
When Amy first called, Shi was reluctant to talk. But it seemed like she couldn’t help but defend herself.
“How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” she said, her voice rising in anger. “I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,” she wrote in a subsequent text message.
During their conversation, Amy asked about recent reports that three researchers from her institute had sought treatment at a hospital in November 2019 for flulike symptoms, before the first Covid cases were reported.
“She said, we have no idea what you’re talking about,” Amy said. In a follow-up interview over email, Shi asked for the names of the researchers who supposedly fell ill, offering to check into the claim, but repeated that she didn’t know of any who had become sick at the time.
Amy also asked several questions about the lab’s safety procedures. The Institute for Virology in Wuhan is one of only two Biosafety Level 4 labs in China. But some of Shi’s experiments on bat viruses were done in Biosafety Level 2 labs, where security is less stringent. That has raised questions about whether the virus could have slipped out.
“She said that all the research that she does is carried out in compliance with China’s virus safety regulations, which are created based on risk assessments and are often aligned with the regulations of other countries as well,” Amy said.
Overall, Amy said it was clear Shi was frustrated with the accusations against her lab.
“This is no longer a question of science,” Shi told her. “It is speculation rooted in utter distrust.”
Investigating the origins of the virus is going to require cooperation from China and key figures like Shi. “Her comment just shows that she’s gotten to the point where she feels like this issue has become so politicized, that there’s no point to cooperate on an investigation that she feels is kind of like a witch hunt,” Amy said.
Read the full story on Shi here.

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