A fresh grave
  • South Africa has now seen almost 138,000 more deaths than in a "normal" year since the start of the pandemic.
  • The Eastern Cape in particular has been ravaged, with the South African Medical Research Council reporting its rate has reached 485 excess deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Even if only a portion of that was related to Covid-19, the province may have seen more dying during the pandemic than most places on earth.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The latest data released by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) show South Africa's excess deaths during the pandemic have reached 137,731, but have now started to subside.

Source: SAMRC

Excess deaths measure the total number of fatalities from natural causes compared with the expected death rate in a “normal” year. The SAMRC uses official death statistics, as well as estimates of deaths that may not be registered, to determine the total number of fatalities in SA.

The excess death number shows that the official Covid-19 death toll (which is below 47,000) may be wildly understated. Researchers estimate that 70% to 80% of excess deaths may be related to Covid-19 – which means that the true Covid-19 death toll in South Africa could be closer to 100,000.

The latest numbers also paint a shocking picture of how the population of the Eastern Cape has been ravaged by the pandemic.  

While the official government number still puts coronavirus-related deaths at below 11,000 for the province, the SAMRC says excess deaths during the pandemic have reached 31,951 in the Eastern Cape.

Source: SAMRC

The SAMRC now estimates that the total excess deaths for the Eastern Cape since the start of the pandemic have hit 485 per 100,000 people in the province. If 70% of these deaths are Covid-19 related, then the disease has killed 340 people per 100,000 – or 1 in every 300 people.

This is among the worst Covid-19 death rates in the world. It may even be the worst.

Belgium, the worst-affected country per capita in the world, has seen 188 deaths per 100,000 people – followed by Slovenia (187) and the UK (176). (These are the official numbers in these countries; their own excess death numbers may be higher.)

Looking at specific regions in the US – the country with the largest total number of deaths – the Eastern Cape had a much higher death rate than worst-affected states like New Jersey (248 per 100,000) and New York (230).

The hardest-hit region (per capita) in Italy, Valle d’Aosta, has a death rate of 327 per 100,000.

In Brazil, another country badly affected by Covid-19, the worst-hit region - Amazonas - saw 227 deaths per 100,000

For the whole of South Africa, the latest excess death number is 231 people per 100,000 – which means that the true Covid-19 death toll (at 70% of the excess death number) could be around 161 people per 100,000.

The same number for KwaZulu-Natal is 207 per 100,000, followed by the Western Cape at 151 per 100,000. In Gauteng, the number is “only” 100 per 100,000.

Why was the Eastern Cape hit so hard?

Apart from having some of the highest poverty levels in the country and lacking health infrastructure, the Eastern Cape was also ground zero for the 501Y.V2 variant.

Scientists found that the new variant probably originated in Nelson Mandela Bay in August 2020, and then spread quickly through the province. While the new variant may not be deadlier, it is 50% more contagious than the original.

And while the Eastern Cape has a large young population (37% of people are younger than 15), it also has the largest proportion of people (11.4% of the population) above the age of 60 in SA. This group is most at risk of dying of Covid-19. 

The latest SAMRC data show that 75% of the excess deaths during the pandemic were among people older than 60.

(Compiled by Helena Wasserman.)

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