South Africa’s ‘actual’ Covid-19 death rate – one year later

On 5 March 2020, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize briefed president Cyril Ramaphosa that South Africa had reported its first Covid-19 case.

A year later, and the official statistics show that 1,517,666 total cases have been reported in the country, with 50,462 confirmed deaths due to the coronavirus.

In the past month, the country has also started its vaccination efforts, with 92,029 vaccines administered to date.

However, data from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) shows that the number of excess deaths in the country over the last year is much higher.

The SAMRC’s data shows that there were more than 145,000 excess deaths from natural causes of persons 1+ years of age by the end of 27 Feb 2021.

The researchers estimate that between 85% -95% of these deaths are directly attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Per capita excess death rates have been calculated for the provinces to scale the cumulative deaths for the population size of each province.

By 27 February 2021, the national excess death rate was 244 per 100,000 population.

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.

The provinces with the highest numbers of excess deaths at the end of Week 8 (27 Feb 2021), are KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng.

The ranking changes to Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape for the crude death rates per capita.

The group added that the weekly number of deaths from unnatural causes increased rapidly in Week 5 (31 January – 6 February 2021) coinciding with the relaxation of lockdown to allow the restricted sale of alcohol and reduce curfew and the anticipated month-end increase and has remained close to the predicted number through to Week 8 (21 -27 February 2021).

Read: Economists on the rand, Covid immunity – and why South Africa’s next ratings downgrade is going to hurt

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South Africa’s ‘actual’ Covid-19 death rate – one year later