China’s latest coronavirus outbreak triggers new lockdown measures

Updated: May 22, 2020

The coronavirus is continuing to spread in China and doctors are seeing the virus manifest differently in some patients in its new cluster of cases in the northeast region.

There are suggestions that the virus, which broke out in Wuhan in December may be changing in unknown ways and complicating efforts to stamp it out.

Patients found in the northern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang appear to be carrying the virus for a longer period of time and taking longer to recover, as defined by a negative nucleic acid test.

Qiu Haibo, one of China’s top critical care doctors said that cases in the northeast also appear to be taking longer than the one to two weeks observed in Wuhan to develop symptoms after infection, and this delayed onset is making it harder for authorities to catch cases before they spread.

“The longer period during which infected patients show no symptoms has created clusters of family infections,” said Qiu

More than 35 cases have been reported over the past two weeks, spread across three cities -- Shulan, Jilin city and Shengyang -- in two provinces, a resurgence of infection that sparked renewed lockdown measures over a region of 100 million people.

Scientists are still trying to establish how significantly the virus is changing and the differences Chinese doctors are seeing could be due to the fact that they’re able to observe patients more thoroughly and from an earlier stage than in Wuhan. When the outbreak first hit the Hubei province, the local health-care system was so overwhelmed that only the most serious cases were being treated.

Researchers worldwide are trying to figure out if the virus is mutating in a significant way to become more contagious but early research suggesting this has been criticised.

Dr Qiu said that doctors have also noticed patients in the northeast cluster seem to have damage mostly in their lungs, whereas patients in Wuhan suffered multi-organ damage across the heart, kidney and gut.

Officials now believe that the new cluster stemmed from contact with infected arrivals from Russia.

Genetic sequencing has shown a match between the northeast cases and Russian-linked ones, said Qiu.

Among the northeast cluster, only 10% have turned critical and 26 are hospitalised.

China is moving quickly to stem the spread of the new cluster ahead of its annual political gathering in Beijing scheduled to start this week.