New Delhi, May 19 (PTI) The government on Wednesday chided Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for his comments that a new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Singapore after the Southeast Asian nation called in the Indian envoy and strongly objected to the 'unfounded assertions'.
In the midst of the diplomatic row, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the Delhi chief minister does not speak for India and that the two countries have been solid partners in combating the pandemic.
Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi, said the Indian High Commissioner P Kumaran clarified to the Singapore government that the Delhi chief minister had no competence to comment on COVID-19 variants.
In its statement, the Singapore foreign ministry said there is no 'Singapore variant' and that 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.
'Politicians should stick to facts! There is no 'Singapore variant',' Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan tweeted.
Kejriwal, in a Twitter post on Tuesday, had asked the central government to immediately halt air services with Singapore claiming that a new coronavirus strain found in that country is particularly harmful to children and could trigger a third wave of the pandemic in 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 tweeted.
At a media briefing, Singapore High Commissioner to India Simon Wong appreciated the Indian government's 'crystal clear clarification' on Kejriwal's remarks and said his government reserved the right to invoke the provision of domestic law on some of the comments made by him.
In a series of tweets, Jaishankar said Singapore and India have been solid partners in combating the pandemic and appreciated the country'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.
'However, 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.
Wong said his country now wants to put the 'unfortunate chapter' behind and focus on collectively dealing with the pandemic, adding the unfortunate episode will not have any impact on the overall bilateral ties.
He said the facts are quite clear and that those holding prominent political offices must have a responsibility 'not to propagate falsehoods'.
'So indeed, in Singapore, there is an act called Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act known as POFMA. It is meant to mitigate the spread of misinformation. So we reserve the right to invoke POFMA on some of the comments and assertions made by the Chief Minister on this topic,' Wong said.
Earlier, the Singapore foreign ministry said it is disappointed that a prominent political figure had failed to ascertain the facts before making such claims.
'MFA regrets the unfounded assertions made on Facebook and Twitter by Chief Minister of Delhi 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,' it said.
'MFA is disappointed that a prominent political figure had failed to ascertain the facts before making such claims,' it said.
The MFA said it met High Commissioner Kumaran this morning to express these concerns.
'As highlighted by MOH (Ministry of Health) in its press release of May 18, 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 MFA said.
Soon after Jaishankar's comments, Balakrishnan thanked his Indian counterpart and called for focusing on resolving the situation in the respective countries and helping one another, adding, 'Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.' Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the assertions made by Kejriwal were unfounded.
Taking to Twitter, Kejriwal on Tuesday called for cancelling all air services with Singapore with immediate effect.
'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. 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,' Kejriwal had said in a tweet in Hindi. PTI MPB ZMN