In excess of 106,000 deaths were reported in South Africa in the period between 3 May 2020 and 16 January 2021, indicating that fatalities caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could be much higher than official statistics show.
The data from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is based on deaths recorded on the National Population Register are provided to the SAMRC on a weekly basis.
These have been scaled up to estimate the actual number of deaths by accounting for the people who are not on the population register and the under-registration of deaths.
The estimated numbers are compared with the number that would be expected based on the historical data from 2018 and 2019.
While the excess deaths may not have been directly caused by a Covid-19 infection, issues such as hospital overcrowding and lack of resources caused by the pandemic likely contributed to this high number.
More recent data shows that there were 13,766 excess deaths of persons from natural causes in the first week of January (3 – 9 January 2021), which increased to 16,093 in the second week (10 -16 January 2021).
SAMRC said that the weekly numbers of excess natural deaths is more than double the highest number of excess natural deaths of 6,673 reported during the first wave of the pandemic in July (19 -27 July 2020).
On Sunday (24 January), South Africa reported 8,147 new Covid-19 cases, taking the total reported to 1,412,986.
Deaths have reached 40,874 (a daily increase of 300), while recoveries have climbed to 1,230,520, leaving the country with a balance of 141,592 active cases.
The number of deaths from natural causes in the Eastern Cape has turned and is decreasing, SAMRC said.
Its data shows that the peak number of weekly deaths in the second wave occurred in week 53 (27 December 2020 – 2 January 2021) and was considerably higher (2,413) than the number of excess natural deaths that occurred in the peak of the first wave in the province (1,436).
“Natural deaths in the second wave in Nelson Mandela Bay have continued to decrease.
“The number of deaths in Buffalo City have also decreased but are still above the upper prediction bound,” it said.
The number of deaths from natural causes in the Western Cape peaked during week 53 of 2020 (27 December 2020-2 January 2021) with 1,480 excess deaths, and has started to decrease.
Natural deaths recorded in the City of Cape Town are decreasing rapidly with the peak in the second wave being about 40% higher than the peak in the first wave, the SAMRC said.
The number of deaths from natural causes in the KwaZulu-Natal has continued to increase, but at a slightly slower rate in the past week.
The number of excess natural deaths in week 2 (11 – 16 January 2021) reached a record high of 5,070, more than three times the peak of the first wave of 1,543 deaths.
By the end of week 2 (16 Jan 2021) the province had experienced a total excess of 26,260 since 3 May 2020.
“The number of deaths from natural causes in eThekwini has turned reaching a high of 1,146 excess natural deaths during week 1 (3 – 10 January 2021), more than double the peak of the first wave in week 30 of 2020 when there were 523 excess deaths,” the SAMRC said.
The increase in the number of deaths from natural causes in Gauteng has slowed in week 2 (10 -16 January 2021), with a cumulative excess of 18,934 deaths by 16 January 2021.
While Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni are still increasing, it is possible that Tshwane has reached its peak, the SAMRC said.