Chinese scientists at the front of that country’s outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have not been particularly accessible to foreign media. Many have been overwhelmed trying to understand their epidemic and combat it, and responding to media requests, especially from journalists outside of China, has not been a top priority.
Science has tried to interview George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for 2 months. Last week he responded.
《科学杂志在两个月内试图采访中国疾病预防控制中心(CDC)主任高福(George Gao)。上周他回应了。
Gao oversees 2000 employees—one-fifth the staff size of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and he remains an active researcher himself. In January, he was part of a team that did the first isolation and sequencing of severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19. He co-authored two widely read papers published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that provided some of the first detailed epidemiology and clinical features of the disease, and has published three more papers on COVID-19 in The Lancet.
His team also provided important data to a joint commission between Chinese researchers and a team of international scientists, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), that wrote a landmark report after touring the country to understand the response to the epidemic.
First trained as a veterinarian, Gao later earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Oxford and did postdocs there and at Harvard University, specializing in immunology and virology. His research specializes in viruses that have fragile lipid membranes called envelopes—a group that includes SARS-CoV-2—and how they enter cells and also move between species.
Gao answered Science’s questions over several days via text, voicemails, and phone conversations. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.


Q: What can other countries learn from the way China has approached COVID-19?
Q: 其他国家可以从中国应对新冠病毒的经验中学到什么?
A: Social distancing is the essential strategy for the control of any infectious diseases, especially if they are respiratory infections. First, we used “nonpharmaceutical strategies,” because you don’t have any specific inhibitors or drugs and you don’t have any vaccines. Second, you have to make sure you isolate any cases. Third, close contacts should be in quarantine: We spend a lot of time trying to find all these close contacts, and to make sure they are quarantined and isolated. Fourth, suspend public gatherings. Fifth, restrict movement, which is why you have a lockdown, the cordon sanitaire in French.
A: 社交距离是控制传染病最基本的方法,尤其是呼吸道传染病。首先,我们使用“非药物策略”,因为你没有任何特定的抑制剂或药物,也没有任何疫苗。第二,你必须确保隔离所有病例。第三,密切接触者应该隔离:中国花费大量时间试图找到所有密切接触者,并确保他们被隔离。第四,暂停公众集会。第五,限制人员流动,这就是为什么会有“封城”(法语中的防疫封锁线)的出现。
Q: The lockdown in China began on 23 January in Wuhan and was expanded to neighboring cities in Hubei province. Other provinces in China had less restrictive shutdowns. How was all of this coordinated, and how important were the “supervisors” overseeing the efforts in neighborhoods?
Q: 武汉从1月23日开始封城,随后扩大到湖北其他城市。中国其他省份的关停限制较少。所有这些是如何协调的,监督社区工作的“监管者”有多重要?
A: You have to have understanding and consensus. For that you need very strong leadership, at the local and national level. You need a supervisor and coordinator working with the public very closely. Supervisors need to know who the close contacts are, who the suspected cases are. The supervisors in the community must be very alert. They are key.
A: 你必须得到理解并达成共识。为此你需要非常强有力的地方和国家层面的领导。你需要一个管理者和协调者与公众密切合作。管理者需要知道谁是密切接触者,谁是疑似病例。社区的管理者必须非常警惕。他们是关键。
Q: What mistakes are other countries making?
A: The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role—you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.
A: 在我看来,美国和欧洲国家最大的错误就是人们不佩戴口罩。这种病毒通过飞沫和近距离接触传播。飞沫扮演一个非常重要的角色——你必须戴上口罩,因为当你说话时,总是有飞沫从你的嘴里出来。许多人是无症状感染或者症状还没有出现,如果他们佩戴口罩,可以防止携带病毒的飞沫溢出并感染他人。
Q: What about other control measures? China has made aggressive use of thermometers at the entrances to stores, buildings, and public transportation stations, for instance.
A: Yes. Anywhere you go inside in China, there are thermometers. You have to try to take people’s temperatures as often as you can to make sure that whoever has a high fever stays out.
A: 是的,在中国无论我们想进入何处,都需要测量体温。你需要尽可能多地测量人们的体温,来确保发烧的人无法进入。
And a really important outstanding question is how stable this virus is in the environment. Because it’s an enveloped virus, people think it’s fragile and particularly sensitive to surface temperature or humidity. But from both U.S. results and Chinese studies, it looks like it’s very resistant to destruction on some surfaces. It may be able to survive in many environments. We need to have science-based answers here.
Q: People who tested positive in Wuhan but only had mild disease were sent into isolation in large facilities and were not allowed to have visits from family. Is this something other countries should consider?
A: Infected people must be isolated. That should happen everywhere. You can only control COVID-19 if you can remove the source of the infection. This is why we built module hospitals and transformed stadiums into hospitals.
A: 感染者必须被隔离,无论在什么地方都应该这样做。只有移除感染源,才能控制住疫情,这就是为什么我们要建造方舱医院并将体育场改造成医院的原因。
Q: There are many questions about the origin of the outbreak in China. Chinese researchers have reported that the earliest case dates back to 1 December 2019. What do you think of the report in the South China Morning Post that says data from the Chinese government show there were cases in November 2019, with the first one on 17 November?
Q: 关于中国的新冠肺炎爆发的源头有很多疑问。中国学者报告说最早的病例可以追溯到2019年12月。你如何看待《南华早报》有一篇报道称,中国政府的数据显示2019年11月出现病例,第一例发生在11月17日?
A: There is no solid evidence to say we already had clusters in November. We are trying to better understand the origin.
Q: Wuhan health officials linked a large cluster of cases to the Huanan seafood market and closed it on 1 January. The assumption was that a virus had jumped to humans from an animal sold and possibly butchered at the market. But in your paper in NEJM, which included a retrospective look for cases, you reported that four of the five earliest infected people had no links to the seafood market. Do you think the seafood market was a likely place of origin, or is it a distraction—an amplifying factor but not the original source?
Q: 武汉卫健委将大量病例与华南海鲜市场联系起来,并于1月1日关闭了该市场。当时的假设是,可能是该市场贩卖的野生动物把病毒传染给了人类。但是你在NEJM的论文回顾了病例,你报告说最早的5名感染者中有4人与海鲜市场没有联系。你是否认为海鲜市场是一个可能的起源地,或者这只是一种杂音——一种被放大的原因但不是病毒的起源?
A: That’s a very good question. You are working like a detective. From the very beginning, everybody thought the origin was the market. Now, I think the market could be the initial place, or it could be a place where the virus was amplified. So that’s a scientific question. There are two possibilities.
A: 这是个好问题。就像侦探一样工作,从一开始,每个人都认为海鲜市场是起源地。现在,我认为市场可能是起源的地方,也可能是病毒被扩大传播的地方。这是一个科学问题。有两种可能性。
Q: China was also criticized for not sharing the viral sequence immediately. The story about a new coronavirus came out in The Wall Street Journal on 8 January; it didn’t come from Chinese government scientists. Why not?
Q: 有人批评中国没有立即分享病毒序列。关于这种新型冠状病毒的报道于1月8日发表在《华尔街日报》上,它不是来自中国政府科学家呢,为什么呢?
A: That was a very good guess from The Wall Street Journal. WHO was informed about the sequence, and I think the time between the article appearing and the official sharing of the sequence was maybe a few hours. I don’t think it’s more than a day.
A: 这是《华尔街日报》的一个很好的猜测。世卫组织已经了解了病毒序列,我觉得官方分享病毒序列的时间和这篇报道刊登的时间可能只有几小时之差。我不认为会超过一天。
Q: But a public database of viral sequences later showed that the first one was submitted by Chinese researchers on 5 January. So there were at least 3 days that you must have known that there was a new coronavirus. It’s not going to change the course of the epidemic now, but to be honest, something happened about reporting the sequence publicly.
Q: 但是后来一个公共的病毒序列数据库显示,中国研究人员最早提交的第一个病毒序列是在1月5日。所以至少有3天时间,你肯定已经知道有一种新的冠状病毒。这个问题现在不会改变疫情的进程,但是事实上,公开报告序列受阻了吗。
A: I don’t think so. We shared the information with scientific colleagues promptly, but this involved public health and we had to wait for policymakers to announce it publicly. You don’t want the public to panic, right? And no one in any country could have predicted that the virus would cause a pandemic. This is the first noninfluenza pandemic ever.
A: 我不这样认为。我们已经及时与科学同行共享信息,但这涉及公共卫生,我们必须等待政策制定者公开宣布。我们不希望引起公众恐慌,对吗?而且任何国家都没有人能预言这种病毒会引起大流行。这也是有史以来第一个非流感大流行。
Q: It wasn’t until 20 January that Chinese scientists officially said there was clear evidence of human-to-human transmission. Why do you think epidemiologists in China had so much difficulty seeing that it was occurring?
Q: 直到1月20日,中国科学家才正式说有明显的人传人证据。你认为为什么中国的流行病学家很难看出人传人的证据?
A: Detailed epidemiological data were not available yet. And we were facing a very crazy and concealed virus from the very beginning. The same is true in Italy, elsewhere in Europe, and the United States: From the very beginning scientists, everybody thought: “Well, it’s just a virus.”
A: 那时还没有详细的流行病学数据。并且我们从一开始面对的就是一种非常疯狂和善于隐蔽的病毒。意大利、欧洲其他地方和美国也是如此:从一开始,科学家们就认为,“嗯,这只是一种病毒。”
Q: Spread in China has dwindled to a crawl, and the new confirmed cases are mainly people entering the country, correct?
Q: 中国本土的疫情传播已逐渐减少,新确诊的病例主要是境外流入,对吗?
A: Yes. At the moment, we don’t have any local transmission, but the problem for China now is the imported cases. So many infected travelers are coming into China.
Q: 是的,现在我们已经没有任何本地传播渠道,但对中国而言,现在的问题是境外输入的病例。许多被感染的旅客来到中国。
Q: But what will happen when China returns to normal? Do you think enough people have become infected so that herd immunity will keep the virus at bay?
Q: 但是当中国恢复正常时会发生什么?您是否认为已经感染了足够多的人,以至于群体免疫阻止了病毒传播?
A: We definitely don’t have herd immunity yet. But we are waiting for more definitive results from antibody tests that can tell us how many people really have been infected.
A: 我们绝对没有群体免疫。我们正在等待抗体测试的更确切的结果,这些结果可以告诉我到底有多少人真的被感染了。
Q: So what is the strategy now? Buying time to find effective medicines?
A: Yes—our scientists are working on both vaccines and drugs.
Q: Many scientists consider remdesivir to be the most promising drug now being tested. When do you think clinical trials in China of the drug will have data?
Q: 许多科学家认为瑞德西韦是目前正在测试的最有前途的药物,您认为该药物在中国的临床试验何时会有数据?
A: In April.
Q: Have Chinese scientists developed animal models that you think are robust enough to study pathogenesis and test drugs and vaccines?
Q: 你认为中国科学家是否开发了足够科学的动物模型来研究发病机理并测试药物和疫苗?
A: At the moment, we are using both monkeys and transgenic mice that have ACE2, the human receptor for the virus. The mouse model is widely used in China for drug and vaccine assessment, and I think there are at least a couple papers coming out about the monkey models soon. I can tell you that our monkey model works.
Q: What do you think of President Donald Trump referring to the new coronavirus as the “China virus” or the “Chinese virus”?
Q: 您如何看待特朗普总统将新冠病毒称为“中国病毒”或“中国人病毒”?
A: It’s definitely not good to call it the Chinese virus. The virus belongs to the Earth. The virus is our common enemy—not the enemy of any person or country.

“我不赞成用‘中国病毒’这个词” ,安东尼·福西试图让白宫了解疫情爆发的科学事实 | Science