The Union Ministry of Information Technology on Friday asked social media companies to take down any content that refers to an “Indian variant” of the coronavirus, reported Reuters. The news agency has accessed the letter that the government issued to the social media giants.

In its letter, the IT ministry referred to the World Health Organization as it asked the companies to “remove all the content” that names or implies “Indian variant” of the coronavirus. “This is completely FALSE,” read the letter, according to Reuters. “There is no such variant of Covid-19 scientifically cited as such by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO has not associated the term ‘Indian Variant’ with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports.”

Last week, the Union Health Ministry had objected to media reports calling the infectious B.1.617 coronavirus strain the “Indian variant”, saying even the World Health Organization had not used the term in its guidelines. “In fact, the word ‘Indian’ has not been used in its [WHO’s] report on the matter,” the ministry had said. Therefore, reports associating the strain with India “are without any basis, and unfounded”, it added.

On May 12, the WHO said that it did not identify viruses or variants with names of countries where they were first reported. “We refer to them by their scientific names and request all to do the same for consistency,” the global health body had tweeted, tagging some leading English dailies and news agencies in India.

The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer “spike” portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, according to Reuters. The World Health Organization has said the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.

On May 10, the WHO classified it as a “variant of concern,” which also includes mutations first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa. “There is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid, had said. The variant has already spread to other countries, and many nations have moved to cut or restrict travel to and from India.

An unidentified government official told Reuters that the letter was issued to send a message “loud and clear”. The Narendra Modi government is facing its biggest challenge since 2014 as there is widespread criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have been blamed for not adequately planning for the second wave of infections.

Instead of boosting the health infrastructure, Modi and other members of his party held jampacked outdoor campaign rallies in March-April for the various Assembly elections where very few attendees wore masks. Modi also allowed the Kumbh Mela that draws millions to proceed from January to March.

India, which has been reeling under the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, has had a difficult time tackling the rise in infections. The country’s healthcare infrastructure took a beating amid an unprecedented surge in new cases, with depleting medical resources, including medical oxygen and drugs. The collapse in the healthcare systems first began in the national Capital Delhi but soon several other states also reported a lack of medical facilities, including oxygen and certain drugs used to treat Covid-19 patients.

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