Seoul — South Korea has reported the first possible cases in Asia of the new COVID-19-linked illness in children. Two children, an 11-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, are both recovering well from what doctors suspect to be the Multisystem Inflammatory Illness in Children, or MIS-C. The boy was released from a hospital on Wednesday and it was expected the girl would go home in the coming days.

Scientists are still awaiting test results on both children, who were first labelled possible MIS-C cases on May 25, to confirm that they were in fact infected with the new illness and to see whether they ever had COVID-19. Neither has tested positive for a current COVID-19 infection, but they will be tested for antibodies to see if they might have had earlier infections.  

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MIS-C is a rare but life-threatening syndrome that has been seen in dozens of children in the U.S. and Europe. It causes symptoms similar to toxic shock and the well-known Kawasaki disease, a condition where different parts of the body can become inflamed. It seems to affect predominantly children of European descent, and no cases have been confirmed yet in Asia. 

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said Wednesday that the 11-year-boy started showing symptoms in late April, after returning from a visit to the Philippines in March. The girl started showing symptoms in mid-May. Both were given treatments long-used in Kawasaki Disease patients, as have MIS-C patients in the U.S. and Europe.

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While still unconfirmed, even the possibility that MIS-C might be affecting kids in South Korea jolted parents’ nerves on Wednesday, as they start sending their children back to school. And it wasn’t the only cause for concern.

“If COVID-19 was a faraway thing that might happen, MIS-C is in your face. School is going to start soon, so I just hope it doesn’t spread,” Jesse Park, the father of a 7th grader set to return to class on June 8, told CBS News on Wednesday. He’s worried about sending his daughter back to school, letting her meet with friends or resuming after school programs.

As a parent and a worker in the medical field, Park knows that “basic prevention measures such as [social] distancing… seem to be difficult, unrealistic in schools.”

More than 2 million South Korean students returned to school on Wednesday, part of a staged reopening, right as officials confirmed a new spike in COVID-19 infections. Small clusters of the virus popped up in different parts of the country, most of them in and around the capital.

A mother kisses her child as they both wear masks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at an elementary school in Seoul
A mother kisses her child as they both wear masks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at an elementary school in Seoul, South Korea, May 27, 2020.

YONHAP NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS


The KCDC confirmed 40 new cases on Wednesday. That’s more new infections in single a day than the country has seen in almost two months.

The newest cluster is linked to Coupang, the country’s leading e-commerce operator — sort of a Korean version of Amazon. Given long-standing guidance for people to avoid gathering points, many South Koreans have come to rely on online delivery for groceries and other necessities during the pandemic. With cases at the Coupang facility, some people fear the virus may have been sent straight to their doorstep. 

With the new clusters of COVID-19 prompting discussion of a possible return to the strict social distancing guidelines South Korea only dropped a few weeks ago, parents are worried that if the rest of the country’s students do return to class in the coming weeks as planned, school might not be in session for long. As parents need to get to work, that’s renewing concerns about childcare.

Overall, Wednesday was an anxious day for many South Korean parents.

“Now it’s not just the coronavirus, there’s also MIS-C,” Suzie Choi, a former nurse and the mother of a 4-year-old, told CBS News.

She closed her business for months, afraid that her young child would be vulnerable to COVID-19. She said she finally reopened her store just three weeks ago, and now she’s not sure what to do.

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