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DoH now concedes that COVID death toll may exceed 250,000

The national Department of Health has admitted the government may be under-reporting COVID-19 deaths, after a SA Medical Research Council report estimating that South Africa had seen more than 300,000 deaths from excess causes in the past two years.

The research, by scientists at the SA Medical Research Council’s Burden of Disease Research Unit (BDRU) in conjunction with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe) in near real-time, has been described as the most accurate measure yet of the pandemic’s impact.

Initially, health officials were dismissive of the research, saying the figures, known as excess deaths, were only estimates, reports News24. In what News24 describes as “a significant departure from its previous position” DoH now concedes that the official, reported COVID-19 deaths which are nearing 100 000, may be under-representing the death toll from the virus.

The BDRU/CARe team has published weekly reports detailing estimated excess deaths since March 2020. Their latest report, dated 19 March, estimated that 302,960 excess deaths from natural causes had occurred in South Africa over the past 24 months.

The team has publicly stated it believed that 80% of these excess deaths could be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Tom Moultrie, a director of CARe, stated in court papers filed earlier this month that this was closer to 85%-95%.

Moultrie deposed to an affidavit in a challenge brought by the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and others trying to interdict the DoH from the continued rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID19 vaccines to teenagers aged between 12 and 17. The matter is scheduled to be heard on 22 and 23 April.

This meant that the excess deaths research showed anywhere between 257,516 and 287,812 deaths could be linked to the local COVID-19 epidemic. This included the official reported COVID deaths reported which, as of 19 March, was 99,879.

“Excess deaths are reported deaths but [with] no cause known. We expect many are COVID-19 related, but obviously not all,” DoH spokesperson Foster Mohale told News24.

“Yes, it is possible that COVID deaths are under-reported because of a number of factors, including that not all deaths are subjected to post-mortems to determine cause of death. There are so many people who passed away because they had other medical conditions, and we are not sure if COVID-19 also contributed to the death.

“There are home burials and many undertakers. So, truth be told, we have to work with estimates,” he added, referring further questions to the BDRu.

This is a significant departure from the previous position taken by the department, writes News24.

In September 2020, News24 reported that the DoHs aid the excess deaths could not be definitively linked to COVID-19. “The excess deaths [are] only an estimate of possible deaths related to COVID-19 that may not be captured in the death statistics – there is no confirmation that these deaths are actually linked to COVID,” said the former acting Director-General for Health, Dr Anban Pillay, at the time. Correlation did not automatically mean causation, he argued.

A little more than a year later, in November 2021, Acting Director-General Dr Nicholas Crisp in an affidavit filed in the ACDP vaccine matter, said: “It is nonsensical to assume that these deaths [excess deaths] must be COVID deaths. That is like assuming that because most days in winter are cold a particular day in winter was below freezing simply because it fell in a winter month,” he said in an affidavit dated 9 November 2021.

Leaders of the anti-lockdown group PANDA claimed at the start of the local epidemic that no one in “their right mind” would expect more than 10,000 deaths from COVID-19, and argued that the impact of lockdowns would lead to larger negative impact.

“The view that the vast majority of excess natural deaths are attributable to COVID-19 is not controversial,” Moultrie stated in a replying affidavit. 'While it may be nonsensical to attribute every single excess natural death to COVID-19, it would be equally nonsensical to suggest the vast majority of those are attributable to some other cause.

“If those deaths are not attributable to COVID-19, they would have to be attributable to a catastrophic failure of the healthcare system that has somehow passed under the radar,” his affidavit stated.



News24 article – SA’s Covid-19 death toll may exceed 250 000 as govt admits to possible under-reporting (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


SA and world COVID deaths 3x higher than official figures — The Economist


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


SA data shows excess and COVID-19 deaths declining


WHO's worst case scenario sees up to 24,000 COVID deaths in SA




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