Geneva: The European Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 first identified in India is “about to settle in the region”, because of many countries are preparing to ease restrictions and allow more social gatherings and cross-border travel.

At a press briefing Thursday, WHO’s Dr Hans Kluge said the variant, also known as the delta variant, had shown signs of the ability to evade certain vaccines and warned that many populations vulnerable, especially those over 60, remained unprotected.

“We’ve been here before,” warned Kluge, WHO’s European regional director. “Over the past summer, cases gradually increased in younger age groups and then moved to older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence,” he said.

Kluge said the COVID-19 spike ultimately led to more lockdowns and deaths in the fall and winter of 2020. “Let’s not make this mistake again. “

Kluge didn’t say people shouldn’t travel, but urged all travelers to do so wisely. He also called for scaling up vaccination and other public health measures across the continent, saying even vaccination coverage “is far from sufficient to protect the region”.

Alpha, Delta variants found in Sri Lanka

Colombo: The highly contagious Alpha and Delta variants of the coronavirus have been detected in Sri Lanka, which is facing a third wave of the pandemic, a senior health official said on Thursday.

Patients carrying the Delta variant, or the B1.617.2 variant first identified in India, and the Alpha strain, formerly known as the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first detected in the UK, have been found in around nine sites in different districts in Sri Lanka, said Dr Chandima Jeewandara, director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, PTI reported.

According to the sequencing report released on Wednesday, 80 people were infected with the Alpha variant in multiple locations while the Delta variant was found in one person at a quarantine facility.

Alpha variant cases have also been reported in fully vaccinated healthcare workers.

Sri Lanka has seen an increase in positive cases and deaths since April, in part caused by celebrations and purchases during the traditional New Year’s festival last month. Sri Lanka has recorded more than 210,000 cases and 1,843 confirmed deaths.

Given the pressure on the health sector with the third wave raging, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued instructions to reinstate retired health workers on a contract basis to fight the pandemic.

Sri Lanka is continuing its vaccination program with the arrival of another million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine out of a total of 13 million that the country had ordered this year. The first batch of one million doses of Sinopharm arrived earlier this month.

The health ministry will soon expand the vaccine rollout to 12 more districts, officials said.

So far, the first dose of Covishield vaccine from India has been given to 925,242 people, with 353,789 having received the second dose. For the shortfall of 600,000 for the second dose, the government says it is sourcing from other suppliers.

Sri Lanka has asked Japan to provide 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in an attempt to complete the administration of the second dose to citizens.

In addition, 64,986 people received the first dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Yesterday evening, more than 2 million of the island’s 21 million inhabitants were vaccinated.