"The gene sequences confirm that this is an avian virus, and that it is a low pathogenic form [meaning it is likely to cause mild disease in birds]," said Wendy Barclay, a flu virologist at Britain's Imperial College London. "But what the sequences also reveal is that there are some mammalian adapting mutations in some of the genes."
This, she said, meant the H7N9 virus has already acquired some of the genetic changes it would need to mutate into a form that could be transmitted from person to person.
While the official Xinhua news agency said it was unfair to compare SARS with H7N9, as the new bird flu virus had yet to show signs of human-to-human transmission, it did warn that the government's credibility was on the line.
"If there is anything that SARS has taught China and its government, it's that one cannot be too careful or too honest when it comes to deadly pandemics.