Heilongjiang reported 43 new locally transmitted confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 68 asymptomatic carriers on Wednesday, the province's health commission said on Thursday.
Of the 43 confirmed cases, 38 were reported in Suihua city's Wangkui county, where the first asymptomatic case of the recent outbreak was reported on Sunday.
Two cases were reported in Harbin; the other three were reported in the Beilin district of Suihua. The 68 asymptomatic cases were reported in the cities of Suihua, Mudanjiang and Qiqihar.
All the patients were in some way connected to Qixing village in Wangkui, the commission said.
"Faced with a problem of a new outbreak and the weak prevention and control capacity in rural areas, we must focus on epidemic prevention and control in those areas," Fang Qingwei, deputy director of the commission, said at a news conference on Wednesday night. "We should strengthen the inspection and control of migrants in rural areas and conduct nucleic acid tests on them."
He also urged related officials to strictly control all kinds of gatherings in rural areas, such as weddings, funerals, banquets and games of chess and cards to prevent spreading the virus.
"Publicity about policies and health education is also necessary to raise villagers' awareness of protection, and to form a prevention and control network," he said. "Residents should stick to good habits, including wearing masks, washing their hands frequently, ventilating frequently and avoiding going out."
Gao Fei, an expert with the province's center for disease control and prevention, said, "Villagers in rural areas of Suihua are all in the slack season of winter, which gives them more spare time for indoor activities. Poor ventilation will greatly increase the risk of spreading infectious diseases."
Neighboring Jilin province identified two local asymptomatic carriers on Thursday, according to the provincial health commission. Both had close contact with the three asymptomatic individuals reported on Wednesday who came from Heilongjiang, the commission said.