Doctors in China are reporting that the coronavirus strain detected in a new outbreak in the northeast of the country is behaving differently to what was found in the initial outbreak, raising concerns the virus is changing as it spreads, the Reuters news agency reported Wednesday.
The report quoted Qiu Haibo, an expert in critical care medicine who is part of a National Health Commission expert group, saying that new clusters of infections in the northeastern border provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang were different to those diagnosed in Wuhan.
Qiu speaking to state broadcaster CCTV in a program broadcast late on Tuesday said the incubation period of the virus in patients in the northeast was longer.
“This causes a problem, as they don’t have any symptoms. So when they gather with their families they don’t care about this issue and we see family cluster infections,” Qiu said, according to Reuters.
Qiu said Patients in the northeast also carried the disease for longer, rarely had fevers and tended to suffer damage to the lungs rather than across multiple organs.
The doctor said the infections in the northeast likely came from another country but did not name it. However, both provinces have borders with Russia.
China is continuing to combat the virus cluster in its northeastern province of Jilin, with four out of five new cases reported Wednesday in the region north of Beijing.
Authorities believe the outbreak may have begun among a group of family members and friends who gathered for dining and drinking without social distancing.
Last week President Xi Jinping said that containment measures must be stepped up in Jilin, neighboring Heilongjiang and Wuhan “to forestall resurgence of infections,” Xinhua reported.
The cities of Jilin and Shulan, both in Jilin province, have been put under lockdown within the past week after an initial cluster that appeared in Shulan last Monday spilled over to Jilin.
Strict controls have been placed on transport, schools have been ordered to close and mass gatherings banned.
Jilin’s vice mayor warned that the situation was “extremely severe and complicated” and “there is major risk of further spread.”
Nevertheless, on Wednesday just 87 people were still under treatment in the country, while 375 others are under isolation and monitoring. China has recorded a total of 4,634 deaths from the virus among 82,965 cases.
The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December and spread rapidly around the world, killing more than 323,000 people at the latest count, and triggering huge economic damage.