Excess deaths fall for third week in a row as Covid-19 numbers slow

By Frank Utonga

Excess deaths from natural causes have fallen for the third successive week, in line with the decline in confirmed Covid-19 deaths, the Medical Research Council (SAMRC) reported on Wednesday.

The number of excess deaths in the week ending August 11 was 3,014 – above the expected total based on historical trends.

In the previous week, there were 4,673 excess deaths.

As excess deaths decline, they are moving closer to the official Covid-19 death toll. Between August 5 and 11 there were 1,867 Covid-19 deaths, meaning the excess deaths were only 1.6 times greater.

By August 11, there had been 10,751 confirmed Covid-19 deaths, meaning the pandemic’s likely toll is about 3.4 times the official figure. This is due to Covid-19 deaths being incorrectly reported and “collateral deaths”, which are an indirect consequence of the epidemic.

The new report confirms the council’s tentative conclusion a week earlier that the progress of the Covid-19 epidemic in SA has reached a turning point.

On Tuesday, the 168th day of the outbreak in SA, the number of active cases fell below 100,000 for the first time since day 122 on July 4. The total peaked at 173,590 on July 20.

If active cases continue to fall at the rate set in the last 14 days, they will be minimal by mid-September.

The moving 14-day average for the increase in the number of new infections was 13.6% on Tuesday, compared with a high of 132.5% on day 78 of the outbreak, May 21.

The council team that puts together the weekly reports estimates there were a total of 36,587 excess deaths between May 6 – when mortalities began to deviate sharply from the forecast – and August 11.

“For people 1-59 years the excess is 11,934 and 24,621 for people 60-plus years,” said the researchers.

“Except for Mangaung, deaths from natural causes in all the metros have declined during the week ending on August 11.”

Cumulative excess deaths from natural causes were:

3,699 in Cape Town;3,446 in Johannesburg;3,072 in Ekurhuleni;1,730 in Nelson Mandela Bay;1,628 in Tshwane;1,403 in eThekwini;1,101 in Buffalo City; and429 in Mangaung.

“Except for Northern Cape, trends in deaths from natural causes in all the provinces declined during the week ending on August 11,” said the report.

“The number of weekly deaths from natural causes are all significantly higher than predicted, excepting for Limpopo and the Western Cape.

“Compared with the predicted number of natural deaths from historical data in the week ending August 11, Free State had 98% more, Gauteng had 50% more, Northern Cape had 47% more, North West had 47% more, KwaZulu-Natal had 42% more, Eastern Cape had 38% more, Mpumalanga had 28% more, Western Cape had 16% more and Limpopo had 7% more.”

The number of deaths from unnatural causes, such as road accidents and homicides, remained steady and was 23% below the predicted number for the week.

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