NEW DELHI: Amid growing concerns that the new mutations of COVID-19, which is more like the B.1.167 variant detected in India, can affect children, the Singapore administration has decided to shut all schools and scale up efforts to vaccinate more and more youngsters.
Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, in a conversation with the ministry’s Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak, had said that the B.1.617 strain, first detected in India, “appears to affect children more”.
“Some of these mutations are much more virulent and they seem to attack the younger children,” the Education Minister said. “This is an area of concern for all of us,” he said, adding that none of the infected children was seriously ill.
Chan, in a Facebook post, said that the government is “working out the plans” to vaccinate students under the age of 16. After the announcement, Singapore and Taiwan announced that schools would suspend classes from Tuesday until May 28.
Is it dangerous for children?
The first wave of the pandemic in India mostly affected those above 60 years of age. The second wave affected the younger generation. Now that most adults are either infected or vaccinated, it is expected that children may be at risk in the third wave. Health experts have warned parents to take extra precautions and look out for post-COVID complications in children for early intervention. According to Dr Vidya Vimal, consultant paediatrician, GG Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, SARS-CoV-2 has undergone mutations and the current strains have been infecting more people, especially children.
Besides COVID-19 infection, the health experts have also raised concerns on other infections such as dengue which is being seen in children. But there is still no official confirmation about children being seriously affected by the new variant of COVID-19 detected in India and Singapore. Though the B.1.617 strain is believed to be driving the Covid surge in India, there is still no definitive evidence to conclude if it is deadlier or is causing a more severe form of infection.
The announcement to shut down schools in Singapore was made after 38 locally transmitted COVID cases, with 17 currently unlinked, were detected in the city-state. The 38 locally transmitted cases caused the highest single-day spike since September last year. Among the new infections were four children, related to a cluster in a tuition centre, who tested positive.
Singapore has relatively remained unharmed by the COVID-19 outbreak last year. However, on Monday it announced 333 local cases of coronavirus infections, bringing the total to just over 2,000.
Kejriwal’s tweet on new Singapore COVID strain
The concerns over the new COVID strain found in Singapore grew after Delhi Chief Minister tweeted that a “very dangerous” strain of the coronavirus was prevalent in the city-state.
“The new form of Corona that came to Singapore is said to be extremely dangerous for children, in India it may come as a third wave. My appeal to the central government: 1. Air services with Singapore to be cancelled with immediate effect 2. Vaccine options should be worked out for children too,” Kejriwal said in a Hindi tweet on Tuesday.
His tweet came amid concerns over a possible third wave, which many experts said is likely to target children. The first wave has affected the elderly the most, and the younger people have been infected in the second wave, they pointed out.
Singapore’s response to Kejriwal’s tweet
In response to Kejriwal’s tweet, the Singapore High Commission said, “There is no truth in the assertion that there is a new COVID strain in Singapore. Phylogenetic testing has shown that the B.1.617.2 variant is the prevalent strain in many of the COVID cases, including in children, in recent weeks in Singapore.”
There is no truth in the assertion that there is a new COVID strain in Singapore. Phylogenetic testing has shown that the B.1.617.2 variant is the prevalent strain in many of the COVID cases, including in children, in recent weeks in Singapore.https://t.co/uz0mNPNxlE https://t.co/Vyj7gyyzvJ
— Singapore in India (@SGinIndia) May 18, 2021
The highly contagious B.1.617 variant was first detected in India and has now been found in several nations. It is said to be driving the second wave in the country that has brought the healthcare system to its knees.
Monitoring the situation, says Govt
Responding to the Delhi chief minister’s tweet, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said only a few flights are being operated between the two countries under the government’s ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ to bring stranded Indians back, and added that “all precautions are being taken”.
“Kejriwal ji, all international flights have been stopped since March 2020. We have no air bubble with Singapore either. Only a few flights are being operated between the two countries under Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians stuck there,” Puri said. “We are still keeping an eye on the situation. All precautions are being taken,” Puri added.
Reacting to the media report about the new Singapore strain, Dr VK Paul, member (health), NITI Aayog, told a briefing on Tuesday, “We are examining it”.
Meanwhile, the Drugs Controller General of India has finally approved Bharat Biotech to conduct Covaxin’s Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials among children in the two-18 age group. As part of this, clinical trials will be conducted on 525 healthy volunteers below 18 years of age.
More Restrictions in Singapore
In the latest round of restrictions, Singapore has limited public gatherings to two, banned restaurant dine-ins and closed gyms. A Hong Kong government spokesman said that “in view of the recent Covid-19 epidemic situation in Singapore”, the two governments had decided to delay the bubble.
The B.1.617 variant, which is widely considered to be one of the primary reasons behind the spike in Covid-19 cases across India during the second wave of the pandemic, has been reportedly termed as a ‘global variant of concern’ by WHO.
According to reports, it has already spread to over 40 nations and several countries have put travel restrictions for passengers coming from India as a result of the spike in coronavirus cases here.
However, the government of India has issued a statement clarifying that the WHO did not associate the term “Indian Variant” with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in its 32-page document published on Tuesday.
“In fact, the word “Indian” has not been used in its report on the matter,” it said. The WHO also issued a clarification saying that it does not associate variants with the names of countries they were first reported from.
“WHO does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from. We refer to them by their scientific names and request all to do the same for consistency,” the tweet from the global health organisation said.