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Shi Zhengli inside a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017.Chinatopix, via Associated Press
The New York Times
 By Jonathan Wolfe

    England, which planned to reopen on June 21, pushed back the date by four weeks after a spike in cases of a highly transmissible new variant.
    California will end most of its pandemic restrictions tomorrow.
    A judge dismissed a lawsuit by Houston hospital workers over vaccine mandates.
    Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.
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.
A new vaccine arrives

Novavax, a small American company that has received heavy financial support from the U.S. government, announced the promising results of a clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. and Mexico. The two-shot regimen demonstrated an overall efficacy of 90.4 percent, on par with the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, and higher than the one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. The Novavax vaccine also showed an efficacy of 100 percent at preventing moderate or severe disease.

However, Novavax said it may not seek emergency authorization from the F.D.A. until the end of September. And with a plentiful supply of three other authorized vaccines in the U.S., the agency may tell Novavax to apply instead for a full license a process that could require several extra months.

Novavax is also applying for authorization in Britain, the E.U., India and South Korea, and it's possible that the new vaccine could win its first authorization outside the U.S., the company's chief executive said.

While it might be too late for the new vaccine to contribute to the first wave of vaccinations in the U.S., vaccine experts says that with waning immunity and emerging variants, the country will need booster shots at some point. And the protein-based technology used in the Novavax vaccine may do a particularly good job at amplifying protection, even if people have previously received a different type of vaccine.
Vaccine rollout

    The inoculation campaign in Thailand is struggling amid a severe outbreak.
    Vermont became the first state to partly vaccinate 80 percent of its eligible population.
    An analysis in the U.K. showed that vaccines offer significant protection against the Delta variant, first discovered in India, The Wall Street Journal reports.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

If you've found this newsletter helpful, please consider subscribing to The New York Times with this special offer. Your support makes our work possible.
What else we're following

    Hispanic American communities have had a higher rate of infection than any other racial or ethnic group, and have experienced hospitalizations and deaths at rates exceeded only by those among Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
    Germany, where infection rates have been steadily falling for weeks, is considering loosening some of its strict masking rules.
    Time reports that a small but growing number of people with long Covid are reporting recoveries.
    As the pandemic recedes in the U.S., mayors are taking on a crime wave.
    U.S. school districts are bracing for what will be one of the largest kindergarten classes ever as students who sat out the current school year return, The Associated Press reports.
What you're doing

I'm trying to remain hopeful as vaccination rates increase in my community, but I'm surrounded by so much negativity that it's hard to stay positive. It seems like everyone is burned out, depressed and still very anxious. My level of risk comfort is not the same as those I wish to connect with, and this has produced high levels of frustration throughout the past year. Now that I'm vaccinated and those in my social circle are vaccinated, my patience for withholding human connection is wearing extremely thin.

Michelle Neufeld, Saskatoon, Canada

Kris~ Dreamweaver
15th June 2021.

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