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Delhi CM cannot decide on civil aviation policy, foreign variants: India to Singapore

On May 18, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal asked the government to immediately ban flights from Singapore owing to a new COVID-19 variant in the South East Asian country that was disproportionately affecting children. Singapore has strongly reacted against the statement and the ensuing diplomatic drama saw the Centre distance itself from Kejriwal.

May 19, 2021 / 01:19 PM IST
Singapore MFA said on May 19 that it regretted the unfounded assertions made on Facebook and Twitter by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Singapore MFA said on May 19 that it regretted the unfounded assertions made on Facebook and Twitter by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's push to ban flights from Singapore has led to a diplomatic incident with the Singapore government, with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) squarely taking the latter's side.

India has clarified to Singapore that the government stands with Singapore's assessment of it's own COVID-19 situation, stressing on the fact that the Delhi CM does not speak for central policies.

"Singapore Government called in our High Commissioner today to convey strong objection to Delhi CM's tweet on "Singapore variant". High Commissioner clarified that Delhi CM had no competence to pronounce on Covid variants or civil aviation policy," MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted on May 19.

A day before, Kejriwal had appealed to the Centre to ban air services with Singapore owing to a deadly new variant emerging in Singapore.

"The new form of coronavirus in Singapore is said to be very dangerous for children. It could reach Delhi in the form of a third wave. I appeal to the centre that : 1. Cancel all air services with Singapore with immediate effect 2. Work on vaccine alternatives for children on a priority basis," the Delhi chief minister had said in a tweet in Hindi on 18 May.


But, Kejriwal's call has now been criticised by the government with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar tweeting out a rebuke. "Irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage long-standing partnerships. So, let me clarify- Delhi CM does not speak for India," he said.

The minister added that Singapore and India have been solid partners in the fight against COVID-19 and appreciated Singapore's role as a logistics hub and oxygen supplier.

"Their gesture of deploying military aircraft to help us speaks of our exceptional relationship," Jaishankar said.

He was hinting at Singapore marshalling military aircraft to quickly transport critical oxygen supplies to Indian companies.

The country has till now donated 256 oxygen cylinders of 47-litre capacity each. Further On May 10, INS Airavat arrived in Visakhapatnam carrying 8 cryogenic oxygen tanks, over 3500 oxygen cylinders and other medical equipment donated by the Indian community and Singaporean businesses.

Sources said that as a seat of global finance, Singapore is more eager than other nations to quickly open up air travel, at least to business visitors.

"The Delhi CM's comment had set off a flurry of calls from western investors inquiring about a Singapore strain. Singapore is also sensitive about characterizing Covid variants based on countries," a senior diplomatic source said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had last week condemned a racist attack on an Indian woman in Singapore owing to widespread public fear of Indians carrying the B.1.617.2 variant, increasingly known officially as the 'Indian variant'.

What Singapore says

Singapore has consistently said the dominant COVID-19 strain in Singapore is in fact the B.1.617.2 variant, unofficially called the Indian variant and thought to have originated in India.

"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 Singapore High Commission in New Delhi had tweeted on May 18.

A strongly worded statement issued by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on May 19 that it regretted the unfounded assertions made on Facebook and Twitter by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal that a variant of COVID-19 found in Singapore was particularly harmful to children and could cause a third wave of infections in India.

"MFA is disappointed that a prominent political figure had failed to ascertain the facts before making such claims. MFA met the High Commissioner of India P Kumaran this morning to express these concerns," the ministry said in a sharp tone.

"As highlighted by the Ministry in its press release of 18 May 2021, there is no “Singapore variant”. The strain prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which was first detected in India," the ministry said.
Subhayan Chakraborty

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