Gao Fu, director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a press conference in Beijing, on Jan 20, 2020. (Photo: www.chinanews.com)
Gao Fu, director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had "never, ever" said that there was no human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Gao said during an interview with China Global Television Network on Monday evening that no scientist could say there was no human-to-human transmission from the very beginning, because the virus was unknown and it came from the coronavirus family, which can often be passed from human to human.
Gao was responding to accusations of him not being honest about the epidemic situation and misleading the public with remarks such as "a SARS-like incident will not recur "and "children and younger people are not susceptible to being infected".
China's top health authority confirmed human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus on Jan 20, indicating that the epidemic could spread more quickly and widely.
Before then, official reports all claimed there was only the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission and that there was no clear evidence of it, raising public concerns over the transparency of the Chinese CDC.
Gao said scientists could only be certain based on evidence, and public health workers like him were like detectives, meaning they could only settle on that "particular criminal" after screening "so many suspects".
"Evidence is the key for you to make any decision," he said. "You are not making any decision by whatever you are suspecting. You make a decision with evidence."
Gao said the National Health Commission sent a senior advisory group to Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, which was the hardest hit area in China. The group included Gao as well as Zhong Nanshan, Yuan Guoyong, Li Lanjuan, Zeng Guang and Du Bin, all top epidemiologists in the country.
He said that after visiting local hospitals and talking with doctors, they held a meeting on Jan 19, where the possibility of human-to-human transmission was brought up.
Gao said it was at that time that they realized there was "efficient human-to-human transmission".
"We already knew there was human-to-human transmission. The only problem was its seriousness," he said.
On the evening of Jan 19, the group held a news conference saying they all believed the virus originated from animals, and that it had completed transmission phases from animal to human, limited human to human and human to human.
"By Jan 20, we claimed the virus had completed those three phases. There was already efficient human-to-human transmission," he added.