Singapore wants to move beyond 'new Covid-19 strain' controversy, says envoy in Delhi

Singapore is among over 40 countries that have continued to send aid to India. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - Singapore wants to close the "unfortunate chapter" triggered by an Indian politician's false comments about a "new strain" of Covid-19 being found in the island state, Singapore's High Commissioner to India, Mr Simon Wong, said on Wednesday (May 19).

Mr Wong told journalists the Singapore Government was ready to move forward following the strong Indian government response to the remarks by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

He said the Singapore Government was particularly "heartened" by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar's tweet.

Dr Jaishankar, a career diplomat who formerly served as India's high commissioner to Singapore, in a tweet described both countries as "solid partners in the fight against Covid-19" and denounced the comments by Mr Kejriwal as "irresponsible".

Mr Wong said: "We are very heartened to see external affairs minister Dr Jaishankar come up with a quick tweet putting forth three points which we appreciate that Singapore and India are solid partners in the fight against Covid.

"Second, (Dr Jaishankar said) the Delhi chief minister doesn't speak for India and that the comments made were irresponsible."

"We should put an end to this episode because the authorities representing the government of India have spoken and we are heartened by those clarifications and assurances. We feel we should move on with the task ahead," said the high commissioner.

The Delhi chief minister caused a diplomatic stir with the claim that the "new strain" could potentially lead to a third Covid-19 wave in India. In the tweet in Hindi, he asked the Indian government to stop flights from Singapore.

"I think the facts are quite clear and we have said before that prominent political office holders must have the responsibility not to propagate falsehoods," said Mr Wong, pointing out that the Singapore Government reserved the right to invoke" the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) with regard to any repetition of Mr Kejriwal's comments.

He noted that Singapore just wanted "to fight the disease and the virus collectively with the rest of the world".

Singapore is among over 40 countries that have continued to send aid to India, which has struggled to cope with a devastating second Covid-19 wave.

Mr Wong said the incident would not lead to any disruption in aid from Singapore which has included over 8,000 oxygen concentrators, nearly 12,000 oxygen cylinders and 64 cryogenic tanks.

"Delhi has been a beneficiary. When we heard about the honourable chief minister's comments, we were all taken aback. All my colleagues here, ordinary Singapore citizens back home and our Indian friends were rather taken aback by all these unfounded assertions," he said.

He made clear the incident would not have any impact on the fight against Covid-19.

"I think it will not have a material impact on what we are doing right now hand in hand to fight Covid," he said, noting a navy ship as well as a military aircraft was on its way to India with more aid.

Singapore Red Cross had also collected over $3.2 million to buy more equipment for India.

"I think we will trudge on and we will continue. This pandemic knows no boundary or political colours. We have to fight it hand in hand," said Mr Wong.

India and Singapore have close diplomatic ties and most analysts have dismissed this episode as an aberration in an otherwise smooth relationship.

Responding to a question on how the Singapore Government referred to the various coronavirus variants, Mr Wong said: "I think the Singapore Government prefers to deal with the virus and its variants in scientific terms. This is global, this is not a Chinese or UK or Indian variant."

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