Deaths may top 88,000 but lockdown disaster dwarfs COVID-19, say SA actuaries

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If South Africa’s present economically restrictive lockdown measures are not discontinued immediately, they may cause 29 times more deaths than the measures aim to prevent. And each week of continuing lockdown will, in the long run, cause more loss of life than the virus itself.

Daily Maverick reports that is the stark message in a report delivered to President Cyril Ramaphosa by Pandemic Data and Analytics (Panda), a multidisciplinary initiative co-ordinated by actuary Nick Hudson, CEO of private equity firm, SANA Partners. It describes itself as a concerned group of professionals and comprises actuaries, an economist, lawyers, a medical doctor, a data specialist and a statistics lecturer.

The frequently voiced government mantra that lives are being prioritised and that the issue is “lives versus the economy” is described in the Panda report as a false dichotomy. The report notes: “Viruses kill. But the economy sustains lives, and poverty kills too.”

Daily Maverick reports it points out that the admitted intention of the lockdown is to “flatten the curve”, to spread expected virus deaths over time, so as not to overburden hospital systems. This “saves lives to the extent that avoidable deaths are prevented, but merely shifts the timing of the rest by some weeks”.

In a letter to Ramaphosa, delivered with the report, Panda requests “an urgent engagement with the government” to explain research that shows that the admitted economic impact of the pandemic will shorten the life expectancy of perhaps millions of South Africans. It points out that, six weeks ago, with little data available about the pandemic, “a rapid lockdown was a prudent decision”. But government should now take cognisance of “new and developing data available today”.

Actuarial analysis could help provide “improved, data-led” decision-making. This would go beyond quantifying the current spread of the virus, and look at the impact of a longer-term humanitarian disaster: this would require the “next best action”.

The death toll from South Africa’s coronavirus outbreak this year could range between 46,000 and 88,000, according to a predictive model from the Actuarial Society of SA (Assa). Business Day reports that the outputs vary depending on the assumptions made about the percentage of people who are asymptomatic, how infectious people are, and how effective the lockdown is.

The Assa model’s output is broadly in line with government projections, and has been provided to Assa’s members to assist actuaries in their work advising clients in the insurance industry. Life assurance companies in particular, needed reasonable projections to assess their mortality expectations and stress test capital requirements, said Assa president Lusani Mulaudzi.

The report says the model itself is still a work in progress and will only be provided to actuaries at a later stage. There was limited local data at present, because South Africa’s epidemic was still in its early stages, and new information was constantly emerging about SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Assa has provided the industry with a range of scenarios that predict the number of symptomatic patients will peak between August and September, at between 588,000 and 2.3m people. The demand for hospital beds when the outbreak is at its worst will range between 69,400 and 125,000, while intensive care unit bed demand ranges between 10,700 and 19,200, according to the model.

Full Daily Maverick report

Letter

Full Business Day report

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