Singapore invokes fake news law over Delhi minister’s ‘new Covid variant’ claims

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<p>People wearing face masks in Singapore, which has seen a rise in Covid-19 cases</p> (REUTERS)

People wearing face masks in Singapore, which has seen a rise in Covid-19 cases

(REUTERS)

Singapore has ordered Facebook and Twitter to carry correction notices for all users in the country about what it said was a false statement implying a new variant of Covid-19 has been detected in Singapore.

The order has been issued under Singapore’s fake news law, or the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

The notice comes after a row erupted over comments by Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of India’s national capital Delhi, about a new coronavirus variant in Singapore.

In a tweet this week, he had said a new form of the virus that was particularly harmful to children had emerged in Singapore and could usher in a third wave of the pandemic in India. He called for a travel ban between India and Singapore.

Singapore was quick to contradict his claims and issue a formal objection. Its health ministry said there was no “Singapore variant” and the strain that is prevalent in many of the Covid-19 cases in recent weeks is in fact “the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated in India”.

Singapore also called in India’s high commissioner on Wednesday to convey its strong objection against Mr Kejriwal’s tweet.

Both Twitter and Facebook have confirmed receipt of the notice and said they are complying with it.

A prompt on Singapore users’ Facebook news feeds linked to a government clarification that there was no new “Singapore” variant of Covid-19. Similarly, Twitter sent notifications to its account holders based in Singapore with a tweet from a government account on the clarification, according to Reuters.

Some users shared screenshots of the Twitter notification online.

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Mr Kejriwal was also criticised by India’s central government over his statement. Foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a tweet that Mr Kejriwal “does not speak for India” and that “irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage long-standing partnerships”.

Simon Wong, High Commissioner of Singapore in India, said he was heartened by Mr Jaishankar’s assurances. He had earlier warned that Singapore reserves the right to invoke the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act over Mr Kejriwal’s assertions.

Singapore has seen a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases in recent days and has imposed new restrictions to combat a spike in local cases.

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