COVID: POFMA orders issued over false 'Singapore variant' claims

·Editorial Team
·3-min read
Under the POFMA correction direction, Facebook, Twitter and SPH Magazines are required to carry the Correction Notice to all end-users in Singapore who use Facebook, Twitter and HardwareZone.com. (PHOTO: Screengrab/gov.sg)
Under the POFMA correction direction, Facebook, Twitter and SPH Magazines are required to carry the Correction Notice to all end-users in Singapore who use Facebook, Twitter and HardwareZone.com. (PHOTO: Screengrab/gov.sg)

SINGAPORE — Correction orders have been issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) over false claims circulating online about a "Singapore variant" of COVID-19.

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday (20 May) that the Minister for Health had instructed the POFMA Office to issue the correction directions to Facebook, Twitter and SPH Magazines as publisher of the HardwareZone forum. 

The platforms are required to carry a correction notice to their users in Singapore.

In controversial posts on Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday, Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged that a variant of COVID-19 found in Singapore was particularly harmful to children and could cause a third wave of infections in India. He urged the Indian government to immediately ban all air services with Singapore.

In its press release on Thursday, MOH said, "There is no new 'Singapore' variant of COVID-19. Neither is there evidence of any COVID-19 variant that is 'extremely dangerous for kids'. The strain that is prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases detected in Singapore in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated from India. 

"The existence and spread of the B.1.617.2 variant within India predates the detection of the variant in Singapore, and this has been publicly known and reported by various media sources from as early as 5 May 2021," the ministry added.

MOH advised members of the public not to speculate or spread unfounded rumours, and to visit its website for latest information on COVID-19.

'Irresponsible comments'

The POFMA orders come a day after India's External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his ministry spokesperson both slammed Kejriwal over his false claims. 

Dr Jaishankar said, "Singapore and India have been solid partners in the fight against Covid-19. Appreciate Singapore's role as a logistics hub and oxygen supplier. Their gesture of deploying military aircraft to help us speaks of our exceptional relationship.

"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 added.

Meanwhile, India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, "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."

Earlier on Wednesday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it "regrets the unfounded assertions" made by Kejriwal.

"MFA is disappointed that a prominent political figure had failed to ascertain the facts before making such claims," it added.

Unfounded assertions

Kejriwal's comments were first published on Tuesday by the Hindustan Times ("Coronavirus variant found in Singapore can be India's 3rd wave, extremely dangerous for kids, warns Arvind Kejriwal") and NDTV (“Stop Singapore Flights: Arvind Kejriwal To Centre Over New Covid Strain”).

Singapore's health ministry later the same day rejected the claims, saying "There is no truth whatsoever in the assertions found within the reports."

The ministry had on Saturday flagged the challenge of the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 prevalent in South Asia, saying the strain is not just a Singapore problem but a global one, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation.

The number of imported cases from South Asia over the past 28 days was 271, MOH said then.

MOH previously reported a total of 131 cases of the India variants – B.1.617 and B.1.617.1-3 – detected in Singapore as of 3 May.

In its latest report based on submissions from Singapore's researchers on 28 April, Gisaid, the world's largest database of novel coronavirus genome sequences, reported a total of 156 cases of the India variants in Singapore over the past four weeks.

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