Delhi Chief Minister warns of B.1.617 Covid-19 variant 'found in S’pore' that can cause '3rd wave' in India

He called for a ban on flights with Singapore.

Matthias Ang | Sulaiman Daud | May 18, 2021, 09:54 PM

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[Updated: May 19, 1200hrs: The Ministry of Health (MOH) in Singapore has issued a response. You can read it here.]

The Chief Minister of India's capital territory, Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has called for a ban on flights with Singapore.

According to the Hindustan Times (HT), Kejriwal had tweeted that a new variant of Covid-19 which is "found in Singapore" was apparently "extremely dangerous" for children and could result in a third wave of infections within India. The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India.

However, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said that while the B.1.617 strain appears to be more virulent, none of the children who were infected are seriously ill.

In appealing to the country's central government, Kejriwal said that air services with Singapore should be cancelled with immediate effect, while options for the vaccination of children should be prioritised.

Kejriwal is a member of the Aam Admi Party, different from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their erstwhile main opposition, the Indian National Congress.

While Kejriwal's comments were reported on other English-language news media in India as well, such as The Hindu, NDTV, and The Economic Times, HT is the only outlet that used the term "Singapore virus".

Other Indian citizens replied to the minister's tweet, pointing out that the B.1.617 strain is the same one first detected in India.

Since April 24, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to India within the last 14 days, including transit, are not allowed entry into or to transit through Singapore.

Hindustan Times: India's capital is showing "signs of recovery"

HT further highlighted that Kejriwal's warning was given amidst "signs of recovery" in India's capital and pointed to how the number of cases in Delhi had fallen from 28,000 in April to less than 5,000 on May 17.

However, the overall national situation, according to international media outlets, is less sunny.

Reuters reported that the number of cases in India surged past the 25 million mark on May 18, with 263,533 new infections in the past 24 hours.

A record number of deaths were also seen, at 4,329.

In addition, while official reports show lower numbers of new infections, there are fears that the new B.1.617 variant, first discovered in India is now out of control, with cases in rural areas unreported due to a lack of testing.

Rural India hit hard by Covid-19

A similar picture of the situation was also given by Bloomberg which, drawing on interviews with people from over 18 towns and villages, reported that whole families are being "wiped out" by the virus in rural areas while bodies of Covid-19 victims have been found floating in the Ganges river.

Here, Bloomberg gave the example of Basi, a village about 1.5 hours away from New Delhi, where 5,400 people, or three-quarters of its inhabitants, are sick with Covid-19, while more than 30 people having died from the virus in the past three weeks.

In highlighting the lack of healthcare facilities, doctors and oxygen-related supplies in the village, the village's head of the farming community was quoted as saying:

"Most deaths in the village have been caused because there was no oxygen available. The sick are being rushed to the district headquarters and those extremely sick patients have to travel about four hours."

Criticism of PM Modi's handling of the crisis grows

In the meantime, criticism has been growing over the government's management of the Covid-19 crisis by India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

The Economist pointed out that there has been a noticeable drop in Modi's media presence, with his few public appearances consisting of a focus on the government's achievements.

The Straits Times compared Modi's visibility in 2020, decisively implementing a lockdown and calling on citizens to follow restrictions, as opposed to his somewhat less widespread visibility now.

Modi's popularity rating has plunged from 74 per cent at the end of March to 65 per cent, according to U.S.-based Morning Consult, a data metrics company.

Top image from Hindustan Times and Getty Images.