MFA meets India High Commissioner to express concerns over Delhi minister's claims of S'pore Covid-19 strain

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Wednesday (May 19) said it was “disappointed” that a prominent Indian political figure like Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had failed to ascertain facts before making claims about a “new strain” of Covid-19 found in Singapore.

In a statement, the ministry said it “regrets the unfounded assertions” made on Facebook and Twitter by Mr Kejriwal, who claimed on Tuesday that a “Singapore variant” was particularly harmful to children and could cause a third wave of infections in India.

“MFA met the High Commissioner of India P. Kumaran this morning to express these concerns,” said a spokesman.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan quoted Mr Kejriwal’s original post in a tweet and said: “Politicians should stick to facts! There is no ‘Singapore variant’.”

Dr Balakrishnan also included a link to a May 11 article in established science journal Nature, which explained how virus variants like B1617 have been dominant in India before spreading to about 40 nations, including Singapore.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tagged Dr Balakrishnan in a tweet that sought to clarify that Mr Kejriwal “does not speak for India”.

“Singapore and India have been solid partners in the fight against Covid-19,” wrote Dr Jaishankar. “Appreciate Singapore’s role as a logistics hub and oxygen supplier. Their gesture of deploying military aircraft to help us speaks of our exceptional relationship.

“However, irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage longstanding partnerships.”

Last month, Singapore sent to West Bengal 256 oxygen cylinders on board two C-130 planes. The Republic and several other countries have pitched in to help an overwhelmed India, which has registered more than 25 million cases and 279,000 deaths as at Wednesday morning.

Dr Balakrishnan tweeted a note of thanks to his counterpart, saying: “Let’s focus on resolving the situation in our respective countries and helping one another. Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi also tweeted to say that Mr Kumaran had clarified to MFA that Mr Kejriwal “had no competence to pronounce on Covid variants or civil aviation policy”.

Mr Kejriwal’s original Twitter post, in Hindi, had also called on India’s government to cancel flights with Singapore.

“The new form of corona that came to Singapore is being said to be extremely dangerous for children; in India, it may come as a third wave. My appeal to the central government is for air services with Singapore to be cancelled with immediate effect and to prioritise the options for vaccinating children at the earliest,” he wrote.

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Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a rebuttal shortly after, saying there is “no truth whatsoever” to the assertions.

There is no “Singapore variant”, an MOH spokesman said.

“The strain that is prevalent in many of the Covid-19 cases in recent weeks is the B16172 variant, which originated in India. Phylogenetic testing has shown this B16172 variant to be associated with several clusters in Singapore,” the spokesman added.

Late on Tuesday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat wrote on Facebook that it was “disappointing to see such nonsense coming from Chief Minister Kejriwal”.

The Indian official’s remarks were published by India’s Hindustan Times and Indian broadcaster NDTV, among others.

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