Medical researchers in South Africa found a “huge discrepancy” between the country’s confirmed Covid-19 fatalities and the number of excess natural deaths, providing further evidence that the number of people who have perished from the disease is higher than the government reports.
South Africa has the world’s fifth-worst epidemic, with 471,123 cases. The Health Ministry reported 7,479 Covid-19 deaths to date on Wednesday, significantly lower than Iran or the U.K., which have a similar total case count.
Yet the number of excess deaths has shown a “relentless increase” in the past weeks, reaching 22,279 between May 6 and July 21, far higher than what would have been expected based on historical data, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report Thursday. Reported deaths have also shown a pattern that is completely different to those indicated by historical trends, it said.
In the week ended July 21 there were 6,256 excess deaths, 63% higher than would normally have been expected and a rise from 59% the week earlier.
Excess deaths are generally calculated using all-cause mortality. The council’s Burden of Disease Research Unit, together with the Centre for Actuarial Research, analyzed the numbers using a different approach, focusing on deaths from natural causes and removing the impact of changes such as the lockdown on unnatural deaths. In South Africa, deaths related to trauma have slumped as the sale of alcohol has been banned and there are also fewer car crashes.
The council “has been tracking mortality for decades in South Africa, and this system has identified excess deaths associated with the Covid-19 epidemic,” Glenda Gray, the council’s chief executive officer, said in the statement. “These may be attributed to both Covid-19 deaths as well non-Covid-19 due to other diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and non-communicable diseases, as health services are re-orientated to support this health crisis.”