No truth to Delhi official’s claims of new Singapore Covid-19 variant: Ministry of Health

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed that the new variant could result in a third wave in India. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) has rebutted claims by a politician in India, which were carried by several media outlets, of a new Covid-19 strain in Singapore.

"There is no truth whatsoever in the assertions found within the reports. There is no 'Singapore variant'," an MOH spokesman said on Tuesday (May 18).

"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.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had, in a Twitter post in Hindi earlier on Tuesday, called on India's government to cancel flights with Singapore, and claimed a "new strain" of Covid-19 could result in a third wave of infections in India.

"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.

His remarks were published by, among others, India's Hindustan Times in a report headlined "Coronavirus variant found in Singapore can be India's 3rd wave, extremely dangerous for kids, warns Arvind Kejriwal". They were also reported by Indian broadcaster NDTV, which headlined its report "Stop Singapore Flights: Arvind Kejriwal To Centre Over New Covid Strain".

The remarks prompted Indian Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri to say in a Twitter post that there is no cause for alarm, as international flights to India have been halted since March last year.

He also said Singapore does not have an air travel bubble with India. "We just bring back Indian people stranded there with some Vande Bharat flights. They are our own people. We still have an eye on the situation. All precautions are being taken," he said, referring to repatriation flights.

The B1617 strain was first reported in India last October and has since been detected in dozens of other countries, including Singapore. The World Health Organisation has classified it as a variant "of concern".

The B16172 strain is a sublineage of the B1617 strain, and is associated with the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Changi Airport clusters.

India has the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world, after the United States.

On Tuesday, its total number of cases surged past 25 million, while its total death toll is at nearly 280,000.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat said in a Facebook post: "It is disappointing to see such nonsense coming from Chief Minister Kejriwal."

Twitter users have slammed Mr Kejriwal for his claim.

"The strain in Singapore is B1617... same as Indian strain... Singapore has already closed borders and suspended flights to/from India. Which world do you live in!!!," Mr Manish Sharma tweeted.

Another Twitter user with the handle Antaraaneja said Singapore schools are closed because of the B1617 strain: "Perhaps fact checking and an apology are in order for spreading misinformation."

And prominent Singapore blogger mrbrown wrote: "Hey, Delhi chief minister! The B1617 strain came from your country."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.