Pressure storm

AN ill-informed tweet by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal about a ‘new’ coronavirus strain triggered a war of words between the Central and state governments, besides impacting diplomatic relations between India and Singapore. Kejriwal had on Tuesday claimed that a new variant originating in Singapore, said to be very dangerous for children, could reach Delhi in the form of the third wave. He had urged the Centre to snap the air link with that country and work on vaccine alternatives for children on priority. Singapore’s vehement denial showed the CM in a poor light. The island city-state’s health ministry made it clear that the strain prevalent in many of the Covid-19 cases reported there in recent weeks was the B.1.617.2 variant, which had originated in India.

The scaremongering, which was entirely avoidable, left the Indian government red-faced, prompting External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to clarify that the Delhi CM did not ‘speak for India’. In another damage-control exercise, the Indian High Commissioner rightly told the Singapore government that Kejriwal had ‘no competence’ to comment on Covid variants. The Centre simply could not afford to let the situation spin out of control, considering that Singapore is a trusted ally which recently came to India’s aid by providing much-needed medical oxygen.

Boasting a robust healthcare system, Singapore has handled Covid-19 pretty well so far, reporting just 30-odd deaths since early last year. However, a fresh superspreading cluster has made the Southeast Asian country proactively impose tighter restrictions, including the closure of schools. With such a track record, it’s natural for Singapore to get upset when somebody casts aspersions on it without rhyme or reason. Kejriwal should have done a thorough fact-check before taking to social media and triggering a needless controversy. In his overzealousness to make Delhi future-ready, he should not lose sight of the immediate priorities — to ensure that the Capital has adequate oxygen, ICU beds, medicines, crematoria and vaccines during the ongoing second wave. He will also be well advised not to meddle in bilateral affairs, which are the exclusive domain of the Centre.

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