COVID-19 strain in Singapore 'different', claims Delhi Health Minister

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New Delhi, May 19 (PTI) Amid criticism over Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's Singapore COVID variant remark, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain claimed on Wednesday that a 'different strain' of the coronavirus is spreading in the Southeast Asian country.

His comments came hours after the government of Singapore conveyed to the Indian high commissioner its strong objection to Kejriwal's comments about a 'Singapore variant' of COVID-19.

The Delhi chief minister called for cancelling all air services with Singapore with immediate effect on Tuesday, saying a strain of the coronavirus found in the Southeast Asian country could reach Delhi in the form of a third wave of the pandemic.

'There are many strains of the coronavirus in India at present.... Their presence is ascertained through genome-sequencing. It is a different strain (in Singapore) indeed. Whether it is from Singapore, Delhi, America or London...what is important is that the strains are different,' Jain told reporters.

'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.

Jain pointed out that the Delhi government had also called for cancelling flights from London last year.

'Then also, it was considered an unwarranted demand. I think we should do whatever possible to protect the country,' he said.

Earlier in the day, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the Indian high commissioner in Singapore conveyed to the government of that country that Kejriwal has 'no competence' to comment on COVID variants.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the Delhi chief minister does not speak for India.

'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,' Bagchi said in a tweet.

In a tweet in Hindi, Kejriwal said on Tuesday: 'The new form of the coronavirus in Singapore is said to be very dangerous for children. It could reach Delhi in the form of a third wave. My appeal to the central government: 1. Cancel all air services with Singapore with immediate effect 2. Work on vaccine alternatives for children on a priority basis.' Reacting to it, Singapore's health ministry said there was no truth in the claim.

Meanwhile, Jain said the COVID situation is improving in Delhi at an appreciable rate, but the target is to bring down the test positivity rate to two per cent.

He said the city government is also preparing for a third wave of the pandemic.

'The second wave has been unprecedented. No agency had predicted that it would be so swift. This time, they have warned about a third wave, so we are preparing for it,' the minister said.

He also said of the 27,000 regular beds in the city hospitals available for COVID-19 patients, around 13,000 are vacant.

Also, 1,200 of the 6,500 ICU beds are available across the city for such patients.

Jain said the Covishield vaccine doses for the 18-44 age group will last for two more days in the national capital and there has been no information from the Centre on the supply of more doses for this category.

He said India can produce one crore anti-COVID vaccine doses every day, adding, 'If we want, we can manufacture for ourselves and for other countries as well.' The Delhi government has been saying that the Centre should share the vaccine formula of the original manufacturers with other capable firms to ramp up production.

On the shortage of Amphotericin-B injections, used in the treatment of 'black fungus' or mucormycosis, Jain said, 'Delhi has demanded one lakh more injections.' On COVID cases in rural areas, he said Southwest district has the maximum number of villages and that testing in those areas has been strengthened.

'We had increased the number of COVID tests in Southwest district...10,000-12,000 tests were being performed every day. The number of cases from these areas is declining and the situation is improving slowly,' the health minister said.

Jain underscored that the convalescent plasma therapy has been dropped from the COVID treatment protocol. However, on the suggestion of doctors, it can still be initiated.

'It depends on a case-to-case basis and will be done only on the recommendation of a doctor,' he said. PTI GVS RC

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