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Updated 15 September 2021
After being hit by the third wave of the pandemic, people worldwide are hopeful of kickstarting a post-COVID life, with many countries recovering from the Delta variant.
On the other hand, we still see countries that previously sustained a low case count, like the U.S. and Australia, experiencing a surge in cases despite having strict border control.
What is the global COVID-19 situation like?
The COVID-19 situation is globally quite diverse. Some of the countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, which were previously epicentres of the Delta variant, have now significantly reduced in cases in relation to the past three months. They have either hit a plateau or have continued to decrease in terms of the new case count.
On the other hand, countries that seemed shielded from the Delta variant are now experiencing a surge in cases driven by the very variant.
The surge or drop in new cases in many countries is not characterised by a steady change and has rather been seeing fluctuations.
What do we know about a fourth wave?
Samuel Scarpino, who conducts infectious disease forecasting at Northeastern University in Boston, has also claimed that a combination of the different variants, the rising vaccination rates, the relaxation of some COVID-19 public health measures, the lack of demographic information on who’s getting vaccinated and the limited genetic surveillance, makes “a very murky picture over the next few months”.
While his statement was in the context of the United States, when applied to the global context, the diversity in the COVID-19 conditions only makes the picture more unclear.
What we do know is that the fourth wave is less of a nationwide phenomenon in most countries and is rather triggered by localised hotspots in parts of the country. This disparity in the spread of cases is mainly reflective of the affected countries’ wealth inequality, inequitable vaccine rollout, increased social mixing, rampant misinformation fuelled by a lack of awareness in rural areas.
Beginning September 2021, some countries are already facing the effects of a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, instigating them to prepare for controlling the spread and arranging health care resources.
Where is the fourth wave picking up?
According to the Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC), Algeria is among the African countries that have been experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta Variant. The country has been experiencing oxygen shortages for over a month now and the hospital system is on the brink of imploding. With inadequate health care resources, Algeria is said to be experiencing the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Botswana experienced a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases starting in July 2021 until well into the first week of August. Though cases have reduced in the recent past, the effects of the fourth wave are still felt on the health of the country. Like most other African countries, what was previously a very low vaccination statistic (less than 1% fully vaccinated) has now changed as the country has shifted its focus on vaccination drives to recover from the fourth wave and alleviate the burden on its health care systems.
Over the past month, Canada’s case count has seen a smooth increase triggering fourth wave concerns. What remained speculative has now been confirmed that Canada is now experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic. Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are the major hotspots but the increasing trend in new cases is of a comparable magnitude in almost all states.
In July 2021, France’s new COVID-19 cases shot up unprecedentedly. The country was projected to experience the fourth wave as late as September or October. However, with a concerning growth rate, the country asked that people brace themselves after declaring a fourth wave of the pandemic in late August. On the contrary, France has been actively trying to bend the curve in September. Whether the fourth wave has ended or will continue is something no one can say with certainty.
From a weekly incidence rate of 5.2 cases per 100,000 people on 5 July to 48.8 cases on 20 August, the Delta variant has been driving the new surge in COVID-19 cases in Germany. The variant accounts for nearly 99% of all new infections in the country, up from 76% at the start of July. Given the rapid increase, the country’s disease control agency formally declared in late August that Germany is in the grips of a fourth wave of the pandemic.
With only around 2% of its population fully vaccinated, Iran has been facing a steep increase in fresh COVID-19 cases since late June, reaching a peak of 50,228 new cases on 17 August 2021. While the trend in new cases seems to have reduced since then, the country is still facing an ongoing fourth wave and the vaccination rates don’t seem to be keeping up. Being among the worst-hit countries in the fourth wave picking up in the Middle East, deaths and hospitalisations have been on an alarming increase.
Similar to the poor vaccination status of Iran, Iraq has administered vaccines to less than 10% of its population. Iraq faced the fourth wave at its worst in late July. However, there is some hope as from early August, the new cases count has been on a slow yet steady decline. A media team member of Iraq’s Ministry of Health, Roba Falah Hasan, voiced how imperative it is to continue rapid vaccination and maintain stringent social distancing measures in order to prevent exacerbating the situation.
Despite having maintained stringent travel restrictions, as soon as Japan eased travel in February 2021, the country immediately reacted with an increase in cases. However, the sharp increase in recent times has proven that the recent outbreak is much severe both in terms of its nature and size — hinting at a distinctive fourth wave in progress. The fourth wave was thought to impact more populous regions like Osaka and Tokyo and while that is true, other cities have experienced a notable increase in cases at the same time as the others have. Japan has managed to bend the curve but the country is unfortunately nowhere near the end of the fourth wave yet.
After Kenya’s third wave, the country saw constant fluctuations in its case count driven by South Africa’s Beta variant of COVID-19. As the Delta variant speak, the case count started picking up in mid-July marking the onset of the fourth wave. While the wave’s peak has been foregone, Kenya is currently experiencing the fourth wave which has put a strain on the health care system’s oxygen requirements and ICU availability. Not all hope is lost, however, as the Kenyan government has been responsive in combating the effects of the fourth wave.
Libya is currently among the Middle Eastern countries worst hit by the pandemic. Right at the start of July Libya saw an exponential increase in cases. The country has managed to bend the curve but the rate of decline is no match to fully undo the steep increase in July. With only around 1.7% of the country fully vaccinated, Libya is under a state of alarm as they face severe threat of a prolonged fourth wave.
As early as the last week of May, Namibia entered what was the fourth wave of the pandemic. Africa is the continent with the lowest vaccination rates and this has been reflecting in countries like Namibia who are desperately grappling with the effects of the fourth wave fuelled by the Delta variant. Though Namibia is now no longer actively experiencing the fourth wave, it was alarming to note how significantly death rates had sky-rocketed at the time. Oxygen shortage and overcrowded hospitals exacerbated the grave situation.
On a positive note, however, Namibia’s vaccination campaigns have been increasing ever since the fourth wave set into the country with the country now having fully vaccinated 5.3% of its population from what was less than 0.5% at the beginning of the fourth wave.
In the recent Delta variant outbreak which caused the third wave, Pakistan was among the majorly affected South East Asian country. Just as the country managed to recover from the third wave towards the end of June, cases began picking up in July and the country is now facing what is the fourth wave of the pandemic. Asad Umar, the country’s Minister of Planning raised concerns during the beginning of the fourth wave regarding the public’s non-compliance with COVID-19 regulations in gatherings and day-to-activities. Pakistan has now put several restrictions on industrial, sporting, educational and outdoor activities in place to curb the growth of the fourth wave.
Somalia was among the African countries that the Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) had expressed concerns over the increase in the Delta variant cases. True to this, the country is now amidst the fourth wave of the pandemic which started as early as July. A key reason for worry is the country’s vaccination efforts as the statistic continues to remain as low as 0.73% of the population fully vaccinated.
Since the very first COVID-19 outbreak, South Korea has proven to be ahead of the game in terms of pioneering contact tracing to curb the spread of COVID-19. While the facts and figures are still not as dire as the rest of the world, South Korea seems to be among the countries that are now experiencing the fourth wave. A sharp increase in cases was observed towards the end of June which has now escalated into record high cases and yet the wave is thought to have not hit its peak. While stringent measures are in place, people movement induced by the holiday season is thought to be the driver of the Delta variant’s spread.
Tunisia is among the African countries which the global community has arguably been the most concerned about. The country saw a spike in the spread of the Delta variant as early as late May and the situation grew most palpable around mid-July when the country hit its peak. This was at a time when hospitals were severely understaffed and the hospital system in Tunisia was at the cusp of collapsing.
Relative to then, cases have managed to decrease but the country is still not officially out of the fourth wave yet and Tunisian authorities have been urging the public to follow safety measures and get vaccinated. In early August, Tunisia vaccinated more than half a million people in an open call to get vaccinated.
The COVID-19 situation in the United States has left many people confused. While some regions of the country seem to be reporting spikes, other regions report that coronavirus positivity rates have plateaued. But the situation is not confusing at all. It is in fact exactly what it looks like.
The fourth wave of the pandemic, which has been brewing in the United States since July, is being driven by a spike in cases in certain hotspots where safety measures are not taken as seriously. Despite having vaccinated more than half its population, this is not uniformly distributed throughout the country. For instance, Alabama has vaccinated just 33.7% of residents, compared to nearly 70% in Vermont. Dr Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, has speculated that the country might not turn a new corner until spring next year with the holiday season coming up.
How are travel restrictions affected around the world?
The placing and releasing of travel restrictions internationally have been a product of each country’s socio-economic factors and COVID-19 situation. Several new developments have unfolded in light of changing COVID situations.
The United Arab Emirates has seen a steady release in international travel restrictions over the past month and has stayed true to its stead by lifting travel restrictions for 15 countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Namibia, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria and Afghanistan from 12 September. This is most likely in line with the awaited Expo 2020 World Fair being held in Dubai.
While cases in the Philippines has been on a rise, the government has declared that the country is not experiencing the fourth wave as no delta variant strains have been increasing in the country. The Philippines has also decided to ease longstanding travel restrictions from 6 September for all inbound travellers from 10 countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the UAE, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The European Union on the other hand removed the United States from its safe travel list in late August, in concerns of the ongoing fourth wave thereby tightening restrictions on non-essential travel to certain EU countries. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are the countries that have strictly restricted travel from the United States.
Denmark has also banned entry to travellers from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brunei Darussalam, Japan and Serbia.
Germany, despite facing the fourth wave, has not closed borders and has instead added Albania, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Japan, The Palestinian Territories, Serbia and Sri Lanka to the high-risk areas as it monitors the global COVID-19 situation.
The United Kingdom released travel restrictions for India and continues to implement the traffic light system despite increasing COVID-19 cases and pushback in order to facilitate international travel for inbound students.
India has expanded its travel curbs to South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe considering the risk of mutations in SARS-CoV-2. The UK, EU and the Middle East were the countries India had previously tightened restrictions for. International travellers from all these countries would now need RT-PCR negative reports to get on flights to India and RT-PCR testing upon arrival.
This page will be updated as new developments unfold.