Excess deaths almost 7,000 since May and still accelerating, say experts

09 July 2020 - 09:27 By Dave Chambers
Johannesburg municipal workers bury the coffin of an unidentified body at Olifantsvlei Cemetery.
Johannesburg municipal workers bury the coffin of an unidentified body at Olifantsvlei Cemetery.
Image: Guillem Sartorio/AFP

SA recorded almost 2,500 excess deaths in the first half of the year, according to the latest Medical Research Council estimates.

But after statistical adjustments, the estimated number of excess deaths attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two months is almost 7,000.

Health department statistics on Wednesday put the Covid-19 death toll at 3,600, and came as health minister Zweli Mkhize warned South Africans to brace for the pandemic's “surge”.

Experts who work in the MRC Burden of Disease Research Unit said in their weekly report: “The all-cause national number of deaths of persons 1+ years of age is significantly higher than the predicted number based on historical data and continued to increase in the week ending 30 June 2020.

“When compared with the predicted numbers, there was an excess of 2,476 deaths,” said Debbie Bradshaw, Ria Laubscher, Rob Dorrington, Pam Groenewald and Tom Moultrie.

“The number of deaths from natural causes is also significantly higher than the predicted number.”

After making statistical adjustments for lower mortality during lockdown, the SA Medical Research Council estimates 6,849 excess deaths in the first half of the year.
After making statistical adjustments for lower mortality during lockdown, the SA Medical Research Council estimates 6,849 excess deaths in the first half of the year.
Image: SA Medical Research Council

When they adjusted their calculations to account for lower mortality during the Covid-19 lockdown, the scientists estimated an excess of 6,849 deaths from natural causes between May 6 and June 30. Two-thirds of these deaths were among over-60s.

The researchers said deaths from natural causes in metropolitan areas continued increasing in late June, with Cape Town recording the highest number of excess deaths, 2,512.

However, “the rate of increase in natural deaths in the City of Cape Town appears to have slowed down. There were 420 excess deaths in the week up to 30 June 2020, compared with 451 from the previous week,” they said.

The four provinces with the worst Covid-19 outbreaks — Gauteng, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal — all showed increases in their excess numbers of natural deaths.

“Care needs to be exercised in interpreting the figures which show a decline in the overall numbers of deaths [for example the Western Cape and Cape Town] as this decline parallels the seasonal decline,” they said.


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