On May 18, Arvind Kejriwal – Chief Minister of India’s capital – went on the record to say that the “Singapore virus” could spark a “third wave” for India. Obviously, it sparked a national outrage in Singapore – everybody from Mr Brown to Vivian Balakrishnan called out this misinformation.
Some of you may have even received social media notifications from POFMA regarding this issue.
India’s latest response
On May 19, Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain came out to say that it’s “wrong to say there is no Singapore strain” after Singapore’s diplomatic mission tweeted that there is no truth in the assertion of Kejriwal. In an article on India TV News, Jain has said that the Covid-19 strain found is Singapore is different from the one found in India.
In case you missed what happened over the past few days:
What Kejriwal said
In an article on Hindustan Times on May 18, Kejriwal was quoted as saying that the coronavirus variant from Singapore was “extremely dangerous for children”. Not only did he ask for children to be vaccinated, he also called on the government to immediately halt air services with Singapore as it could spark India’s “third wave”.
He also went on to Twitter to post the exact same remark:
The response from Singapore
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has expressed its concerns to India’s High Commissioner over those comments.
In a press statement on Wednesday (May 19), MFA said it “regrets the unfounded assertions made on Facebook and Twitter” by Kejriwal. “MFA is disappointed that a prominent political figure had failed to ascertain the facts before making such claims,” said the ministry. MFA has met the High Commissioner of India P Kumaran to express these concerns.
As highlighted by MOH and MFA, there is no “Singapore variant”, since the strain prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases in recent weeks is the B16172 double mutant variant, which was first detected in India.
India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted that Kejriwal’s comments were “irresponsible” and that the chief minister “does not speak for India”.
Many netizens have also spoken up to denounce Kejriwal’s comments, saying that he doesn’t represent the majority of Indians.
Perhaps Kejriwal hasn’t heard the news that Singapore has stopped allowing entry for long-term pass holders and short-term pass holders with recent travel from India from Apr 24.
The only things that are true now is that the B1617 variant is responsible for the current spike in Covid-19 cases, and is spreading among children in Singapore.
The beef about B1617
The naming of the coronavirus and its variants after the countries they’re first discovered has been the norm – think the ‘UK variant’, ‘South Africa variant’, and ‘Brazil variant’. However, there isn’t a case for a ‘Singapore variant’ because the strain – B1617 (and its offshoot B1617.2) – was first detected in India.
In fact, the B1617 variant of SARS-CoV2 is currently designated as the Variants of Interest (VOI) by WHO, along with the three other variants – the British, Brazilian and South African. In fact, search ‘B1617’ and you’ll find many reports on its origins.
The danger of names
We shouldn’t be naming variants simply by the countries they were first discovered in – this is because they could’ve originated in transit (over international waters or during flights) or from an undetected/undocumented source from another country. Even if they did originate from a certain country, adding a country name to a variant only allows people to play the blame game – look at what happened to Asian Americans over the past year, when Trump called Covid-19 the ‘Wuhan virus’.
While we don’t have a ‘Singapore variant’ now, we don’t know what the future holds – so this is a good reason to not be complacent about our safety.