Singapore on Thursday asked Facebook and Twitter to issue a correction to all its users about a “false statement” on a new strain of the coronavirus which originated in the city-state and risked spreading to India.
“There is no new ‘Singapore’ variant of COVID 19,” the city-state’s health ministry said. “Neither is there evidence of any Covid-19 variant that is extremely dangerous for kids. The strain that is prevalent in many of the Covid-19 cases detected in Singapore in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated from India.”
Singapore’s health ministry advised people not to spread “unfounded rumors” about the Covid-19 variant.
Facebook confirmed to Reuters that it had received the Singapore government’s order. A prompt on the news feeds of users linked to a government website clarifying there was no Singapore variant of the coronavirus.
A controversy had erupted on Tuesday after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed that Singapore had flagged new strains of the coronavirus that could affect children in India in a possible “third wave” of the pandemic. He urged the Centre to ban flights from Singapore.
Kejriwal’s comment drew sharp reactions from the Singapore government. The city-state’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that “politicians should stick to facts” and asserted that there was “no Singapore variant” of the coronavirus.
The Singapore government also summoned India’s High Commissioner on Wednesday morning to “convey strong objection” to Kejriwal’s comment.
Amid criticism from Singapore, India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar clarified that Kejriwal “does not speak” for the government.
The B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus had been classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on May 10. Many experts believe that the variant is fuelling the second wave of the coronavirus in India.
On May 12, the Indian government had strongly objected against the use of “Indian variant” to refer to the B.1.617 coronavirus strain in media reports. The Union health ministry had pointed out that even the World Health Organization had not used the term in its guidelines.
Shortly after that, WHO also said that it did not identify viruses or variants with names of countries where they were first reported. “We refer to them by their scientific names and request all to do the same for consistency,” the global health body tweeted, tagging some leading English dailies and news agencies in India.
The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer “spike” portion of the virus that attaches to human cells. The WHO said the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.