Can't slacken in efforts to check COVID-19, says Singapore PM

While Singapore has kept its number of coronavirus-related deaths low at 31 and is in a stable position, it is “far from out of the woods”, with a fresh superspreading cluster leading to tightened restrictions and gathering rules again, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore cannot afford to slacken in its effort to keep COVID-19 in check as the virus will rear its head in new and unimaginable ways, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

The city state is also issuing general correction directions to Facebook, Twitter and SPH Magazines under the Singapore Press Holdings over falsehoods about a "Singapore variant" of COVID-19 under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

The "Singapore variant" of COVID-19 became a diplomatic issue between Singapore and India following Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Twitter post on Tuesday, asking 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.

While Singapore has kept its number of coronavirus-related deaths low at 31 and is in a stable position, it is "far from out of the woods", with a fresh superspreading cluster leading to tightened restrictions and gathering rules again, said the Prime Minister.

"Each time you think you have got the COVID-19 situation under control, and you know how to respond to it, it pops up in a new direction," said Lee.

"It can be a mutant, it can be a new avenue which you did not spot, but you cannot afford to slacken, and you must always think beyond what you imagine is likely to happen," The Straits Times quoted the PM as saying.

He noted that the world has not taken "giant strides towards autarky", meaning "total self-reliance". Nor can a small and open country such as Singapore afford to seal its borders off, Lee said.

"Protectionism? Yes. Autarky? No. That is a qualified plus. We are very anxious that what has happened to the rest of the world will not befall Africa too, which would have consequences not just on that continent," he said.

Stressing the need for global cooperation to mitigate supply chain disruptions, he warned that it would be "very harmful" for every country to make everything onshore.

While there is greater desire to have more resilience, if that goes too far, the price will be very high, he said on Wednesday while addressing the US Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery, which brings together government and business leaders to discuss opportunities and barriers to global recovery.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has instructed the POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) Office to issue general correction directions to the social media giants and SPH Magazines.

A general correction direction is an order issued to prescribed Internet intermediaries, telecom and broadcast licensees, and permit holders of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. It would require them to communicate, publish, broadcast or transmit a correction notice to their users in Singapore.

"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 (of SPH)," the Ministry of Health said in a press release on Thursday. SPH is Singapore’s largest publishing house.

The ministry said it is aware of a "false" statement circulating online by multiple media outlets and social media platforms that implies that a "previously unknown variant of COVID-19" originated in Singapore and/or risks spreading to India from Singapore.

"There is no new ‘Singapore’ variant of COVID-19. Neither is there evidence of any COVID-19 variant that is extremely dangerous for kids," it said.

"We advise members of the public not to speculate and/or spread unfounded rumours," the ministry said.

The strain that is prevalent in many COVID-19 cases in Singapore in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated in India, added the Health Ministry.

"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 May 5, 2021," it said.

On Tuesday, the ministry had said there is "no truth whatsoever" in the assertion in several news reports in India that there is a "Singapore variant" of the COVID-19 virus.

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