• Whitty: “Entirely plausible” new syndrome is linked to covid-19
  • Remains very rare
  • If public are worried about a child, they should seek urgent health advice 

Matt Hancock is “very worried” about signs that a new coronavirus-linked syndrome may be emerging in children, which are being investigated “as a matter of urgency”, he has said.

National medical chiefs stressed the cases were very rare, but confirmed it was “entirely plausible” they were a new presentation linked to covid-19.

HSJ revealed this morning that alerts had been issued to GPs and paediatric intensive care doctors, citing “growing concern that a [covid-19] related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases”.

Asked about it by HSJ at the government’s daily coronavirus press conference, the health and social care secretary said: “I’m very worried about [it] and we are looking into it closely.”

Clinicians have found that many, but not all, of the children presenting with the symptoms — which are similar to another rare condition called Kawasaki disease — tested positive for coronavirus, leaving them uncertain whether it is linked to the virus.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told the press briefing: “This is a very rare situation but I think it is entirely plausible that this is caused by this [coronavirus], at least in some cases, because we know that in adults, who of course have much more [coronavirus] disease than children do, big problems are caused by an inflammatory process. And this looks rather like an inflammatory process [albeit] a rather different one.

“Therefore, given that we’ve got a new presentation of this at a time with a new disease [coronavirus], the possibility that there is a link is certainly plausible.”

NHS England’s national medical director Steve Powis said: “We have become aware in the last few days of reports of severe illness in children which might be a Kawasaki-like disease.

“Kawasaki disease is a very rare inflammatory condition that occurs in children. The cause is not often known — it can be related to a number of things.

“It’s only in the last few days that we’ve seen those reports… I’ve asked the national clinical director for children and young people to look into this as a matter of urgency.

“I know the secretary of state is concerned, as he said, [and] I know Public Health England [is] also looking into this.”

Professor Powis said “our experts” had been asked “to see whether they can establish” what was causing the cases. “They’re not sure at the moment. It’s really too early to say whether there is a link, but what I should say — as we said already this afternoon — is our advice to parents is this sort of disease is very, very rare.

“If you are worried about a child who is becoming sick and not recovering then do remember to contact 111, talk to a GP, or, in an emergency, contact 999, because the emergency services in the NHS are there for sick children, and it is important for this and other conditions that you come forward to seek treatment and diagnosis as quickly as possible.”

Globally, very small numbers of children are seriously affected by coronavirus.