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'Almost all' 62,000 excess SA deaths this year due to COVID-19

South African hospitals likely under-reported the number of patients with the coronavirus and the death toll probably much higher than the official figure, with almost all 62,000 excess deaths recorded this year being due to COVID-19, according to a Wits study.

The Medical Research Council disagrees with the findings.

Business Tech reports that as many as 2.8m people out of a population of 59m may have had the virus, and almost all of the country’s 62 056 excess deaths since the beginning of the year were probably caused by the pathogen, Prof Alex van den Heever, chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand said in a paper this month.

His research used data to 24 October. By that date, 658 171 infections and 15 907 deaths had been confirmed by the Health Ministry. Other researchers using different methodology have come up with a lower figure of natural excess deaths, or the number of people who died this year above an historical average.

They also attribute some deaths to a lack of access to medical facilities and treatment as SA imposed movement restrictions. Van den Heever disagrees. Peaks of new infections closely match spikes in excess death numbers, he said.

'The correlation is just too close for it to be collateral deaths,' he said. 'There is a strong possibility that they are directly linked to Covid-19. To me it would be the most probable conclusion, unless other evidence is brought to bear.'

'We think that he is overstating the number of excess deaths,' said Debbie Bradshaw, chief specialist scientist at the SA Medical Research Council and a co-author of the council’s weekly excess deaths report. Still, 'we concur with his interpretation that the temporal trend across the provinces suggests most of deaths would be Covid related', she said.


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