On May 18, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that a new COVID variant originating from Singapore could prove fatal for children and the central government should ban flights from the country and work toward vaccinating children. The tweet gained over 11,000 retweets and more than 54,000 likes as of this writing.

Kejriwal’s statement was carried by Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, Livemint, The Times Of India, DNA and Zee News.

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B.1.617.2 ORIGINATED IN INDIA

Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MoH) refuted the Delhi Chief Minister’s claim in a press release which said, “The Ministry of Health refers to the reports published by Hindustan Times on 18 May 2021 (“Coronavirus variant found in Singapore can be India’s 3rd wave, extremely dangerous for kids, warns Arvind Kejriwal”) and NDTV on 18 May 2021 (“Stop Singapore Flights: Arvind Kejriwal To Centre Over New Covid Strain”). There is no truth whatsoever in the assertions found within the reports. There is no “Singapore variant”. The strain that is prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated in India. Phylogenetic testing has shown this B.1.617.2 variant to be associated with several clusters in Singapore.” The same was reiterated by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Earlier on May 16, Singapore Minister for Health Ong Ye Kunga had stated that B.1.617 strain affects children more and schools have adopted homeschooling taking caution. This was reported by several Singaporean government websites and Bloomberg. Kunga’s statement was uploaded by a Singapore-based news outlet on YouTube. It was later picked up by Indian social media users and shared without the correct context. In the video, he said schools are shifting to distance education because this wave in Singapore appears to impact children adversely.

Several leaders from Singapore have refuted CM Kejriwal’s claim, including Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. External Affairs Minister (MEA) of India S Jaishankar wrote that the Delhi CM does not speak for India.

Singapore’s MoH had stated on May 11 that they have detected ten different COVID-19 variants among local and imported cases. “Sequencing results indicate that the recent clusters at TTSH, ICA and Tuas South CCF were driven by the B.1.617.2 variant that was first detected in India,” said the MoH.

WHO ON COVID-19 VARIANTS

WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update on April 25 said that over 1,200 sequences have been uploaded to GISAID and assigned to lineage B.1.617 (collectively) from at least 17 countries; most sequences were uploaded from India, the United Kingdom, USA and Singapore. The document clearly stated, “Both B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 were first identified in India in December 2020, and have been detected at increasing prevalence concurrent to the major upsurge observed in the country. B.1.617.3 was first detected in India in October 2020, but relatively fewer viruses matching this sub-lineage have been reported to date.” (view PDF)

The following table was published on the May 18 edition of WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update. As of May 18, not a single COVID-19 variant has been solely linked with Singapore. The table also stated, “B.1.617 lineage is divided into three sublineages (B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3). Findings for sublineages B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 were mainly used to declare B.1.617 a global VOC. Once more information becomes available, specific sublineages may be declared as a global VOI/VOC.”

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s claim, which was subsequently carried by multiple media outlets, that a new Singapore COVID-19 variant was found was refuted by the governments of Singapore and India. As per WHO’s latest Weekly Epidemiological Update, there is no variant solely linked with Singapore. Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain however said there was a different strain of coronavirus spreading in Singapore. “It is wrong to say it is not a different variant… The picture will be clear in some time. We will inform you about it,” he said. Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia also backed CM Kejriwal.

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About the Author

Archit is a fact-checking journalist at Alt News since November 2019. Previously, he has worked as a producer at a TV news channel and as a reporter at a leading English-language daily. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at an NGO.