"Kejriwalji, Foreign Flights Closed": Hardeep Puri Reminds Delhi Chief Minister

Hardeep Singh Puri's message came hours after Arvind Kejriwal called on the centre to suspend Singapore flights over a "new Covid strain" affecting children

'Kejriwalji, Foreign Flights Closed': Hardeep Puri Reminds Delhi Chief Minister

Coronavirus: Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted Tuesday evening

New Delhi:

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri on Tuesday evening reminded Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal that international passenger flights to and from India have been suspended - with some exceptions - since March last year, when the country went into a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

Mr Puri's message came hours after Mr Kejriwal called on the centre to suspend flights to and from Singapore over concerns about a "new Covid strain" in the southeast Asian country.

The Delhi Chief Minister had claimed the "new strain" was "extremely dangerous for children" and urged the centre to pause air links and work out vaccination options for the 18-and-below age group.

"Kejriwal ji, international flights have been closed since March 2020. We do not even have an 'air bubble' arrangement with Singapore. There are only a few flights - Vande Bharat Missions - to bring back Indians stranded there. After all, these are our own people," Mr Puri tweeted.

"We are keeping our eye on the situation and all precautions are being taken," he added.

This morning the centre offered sterner criticism, saying Singapore - a key regional partner in the war on the COVID-19 virus - had conveyed its "strong objection" to his remarks about the "new Covid strain". Foreign Minister S Jaishankar tweeted: "... Delhi CM does not speak for India".

Mr Kejriwal's comment came amid concerns a third wave of Covid infections - one that attacks children - is around the corner. Dr Devi Shetty, the chief of Narayana Health, told NDTV the third wave could "predominantly target children... because adults are either infected or immunised".

However, Singapore - among a few countries to have some success in tackling the pandemic - has denied there is a new strain affecting its children. It refuted Mr Kejriwal's Tuesday tweet and said the strain in its territory was a variant of the India-dominant virus.

"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," the High Commission in Delhi tweeted.

The highly contagious B.1.617 variant was first detected in India and has since been found in several other countries. Experts believe it is driving the second wave in this country.

B.1.617 does, however, "appear to affect children more", Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said. Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said the strain "seems to attack the younger children".

The country has confirmed a few cases of children being infected from a cluster at a tuition centre.

Few nations have approved Covid vaccines for children.

Last week the United States approved the Pfizer shot for 12-15 year old children. Canada has allowed children over 12 to get vaccinated. Singapore has plans to vaccinate children under 16.

In India, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin has been cleared for trials on children between two and 18.

Widening the net to include children must include plans to scale up production of vaccine doses - a crucial task given shortage in the country after the 18-44 age group were declared eligible from May 1.

Also on Tuesday, Mr Kejriwal announced a slew of welfare measures for Delhi citizens affected by the pandemic, including financial compensation and free education for children orphaned by the virus.

This morning India - which has emerged as the global epicentre of the pandemic - reported over 2.67 lakh new cases and a record 4,529 deaths in 24 hours. Singapore has registered fewer than 62,000 since the pandemic began, and, as of this morning, has fewer than 500 active cases.

With input from AFP