South Korea reported its biggest jump in coronavirus infections in seven weeks yesterday, driven by a fresh cluster at an e-commerce warehouse on Seoul’s outskirts, as millions more pupils went back to school.
The country has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus and has rushed to contain new infections as life returns to normal. But officials announced 40 new cases yesterday - taking its total to 11,265 - with most new infections from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.
It was the largest increase since 53 infections were announced on April 8. An outbreak at a warehouse of e-commerce firm Coupang in Bucheon, west of Seoul, has seen 36 cases so far, the KCDC added. “It is suspected that the basic regulations were not enforced at the warehouse,” said vice health minister Kim Gang-lip. “If quarantine rules are not implemented at workplaces, it could lead to a dreadful result of a mass infection.”
But officials said the possibility of parcel recipients being infected was low. Social distancing rules have been relaxed in South Korea and facilities such as museums and churches have reopened while some professional sports - including baseball and soccer - started new seasons earlier this month, albeit behind closed doors. More than 2mn students returned to classes yesterday, as part of the phased reopening of schools.
Some high schools were forced to turn back pupils shortly after resuming classes last week over concerns of new virus cases in their neighbourhood. The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside mainland China, and while it never imposed a compulsory lockdown, strict social distancing had been widely observed since March.
But it appears to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to an extensive “trace, test and treat” programme. Two children who are the first suspected cases in South Korea of a rare, life-threatening syndrome linked with the new coronavirus, are recovering following treatment, health authorities said yesterday. The symptoms of “Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children” (MIS-C) are similar to toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, and include fever, rashes, swollen glands and, in severe cases, heart inflammation.
Officially called “Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome Potentially Associated with Covid-19”, MIS-C cases have been reported in France, Italy, Spain and Britain and the United States, where more than 100 cases were found in the state of New York. The syndrome has raised fears that Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, could pose a greater risk to children than had been understood. Covid-19 so far has taken its greatest toll on the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said it launched an investigation after two suspected cases of MIS-C involving an 11-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl were reported on Monday. Both had tested negative for Covid-19, but further analysis was being undertaken, especially as the boy had been in the Philippines between January and March.
The boy has already been released from the hospital, and the girl is expected to be discharged soon, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said. “Both of the two children have recovered from the symptoms,” Jeong told a briefing. “We’re carrying out a Covid-19 antibody test on them to reconfirm whether they were infected, and will determine after the test whether they make the MIS-C cases.” Kwak Jin, a KCDC official in charge of patient management, said the two children had been treated as they would for Kawasaki disease.
Having been one of the first countries to suffer an outbreak of Covid-19, South Korea has succeeded in curbing the spread of the virus through a robust strategy to track, trace and contain.
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