There Is No ‘Singapore Variant’, Kejriwal’s Claim Is Misleading
The Singapore MoH said that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases is due to the dominant variant from India.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in a Tweet on Tuesday, 19 May, claimed that a "new variant" of COVID-19 was found in Singapore that could result in a third wave of infections in India and impact kids.
However, this claim has been disputed by the Singapore Ministry of Health (MoH) and variant trackers around the world.
According to The New York Times' variant and mutations tracker, there is no "new variant" that was found in Singapore. The COVID-19 cases that were found in Singapore in recent weeks were because of the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated in India, the MoH said.
WHAT DID KEJRIWAL SAY?
Kejriwal, in his Tweet said, "सिंगापुर में आया कोरोना का नया रूप बच्चों के लिए बेहद ख़तरनाक बताया जा रहा है, भारत में ये तीसरी लहर के रूप में आ सकता है”।
[Translation: A new variant of coronavirus that has come from Singapore is being described as very dangerous for children, it can give rise to the third wave of COVID-19 infections in India.]
The Delhi CM then went on to make two appeals to the central government:
- "Air services with Singapore to be cancelled with immediate effect
- Priority on vaccine options should be worked out for children too"
Kejriwal's claim was then picked up by some news organisations who put out reports talking about the "Singapore variant".
IS THERE A "SINGAPORE VARIANT"?
To find out if there was indeed a "Singapore variant" we checked local news reports from Singapore and the World Health Organisation's website, but we didn't find any report on a new variant that was found in the country.
We checked the NYT's variant and mutations tracker which also didn't have any information on a new COVID-19 variant.
We then came across a response to Kejriwal’s tweet by Singapore’s diplomatic mission in India, who added the MoH's statement that said, “There is no truth in the assertion that there is a new COVID strain in Singapore.”
"Phylogenetic testing has shown that the B.1.617.2 variant is the prevalent strain in many of the COVID cases, including in children, in recent weeks in Singapore," the MoH statement added.
The B.1.617.2 strain is a sublineage of the B.1.617 strain, which has become the dominant strain across India and has spread to about 40 nations.
We also found news reports which said that the country was preparing to shut down most schools and colleges after it was found that some children were infected with COVID-19 because the new coronavirus variants, such as the one first detected in India.
Citing the ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told The Strait Times, an English-language daily based in Singapore, "...it would appear the B1617 strain appears to affect children more, so you'll notice that for schools, the response has been different compared with last year."
Moreover, the international flights from Singapore have been stopped since March 2020, when the pandemic began.
Responding to Kejriwal on Twitter, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri reiterated the point and said, “Kejriwal ji, all international flights have been stopped since March 2020. We have no air bubble with Singapore either. There are only a few flights - Vande Bharat Missions - to bring back Indians stranded there. After all, these are our own people”.
WHAT IS THE B.1.617 VARIANT?
The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India in October 2020 and comprises two mutations of the virus, making it a distance lineage.
These include the E484Q mutation, which is similar to another variant, the E484K, found in the fast-spreading Brazilian and South African variants of concern. It also includes the L452R mutation, which helps the virus escape our body’s natural immune response.
The WHO on 10 May, said that one version of the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 appeared to be more contagious and classified it as being "a variant of concern".
Several countries have put travel restrictions for passengers coming from India as a result of the surge in cases here.
While the variant has been the most dominant one found in India, there is still no conclusive evidence to prove if it is deadlier or is causing a more severe form of infection in either children and adults.
Dr VK Paul, member (health) of Niti Aayog, informed that the Centre was examining cases in children and said, "Regarding COVID-19 among children.. it is reassuring that they don't get serious infection. We are keeping an eye on this."
Evidently, Delhi CM's claim that a more virulent strain of COVID-19 was found in Singapore that could impact children is misleading and lacks evidence.
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