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Johannesburg – The health department’s official Covid death toll for 2020 was 28,500. However, according to researchers at the Medical Research Council and the University of Cape Town , the number of actual Covid deaths is probably more than double this. This is because the official data only includes confirmed deaths in hospitals.
The study is based on the MRC’s weekly estimated deaths based on death certificates registered in the National Population Register of the Department of Home Affairs. The World Health Organization defines excess mortality as mortality that is attributable to crisis conditions, in this case, the Covid-19 pandemic. The Eastern Cape was the hardest-hit province, accounting for over 30% of excess deaths. The estimate of the actual number of deaths in South Africa of persons over one year for 2020 was 13% higher than usual. But this estimate is conservative, as the population register does not capture all the data. This is because some deaths of people without South African birth certificates or identity documents — mainly non-South Africans — are unreported. Depending on definition, between 70,000 and 76,000 excess deaths occurred in 2020 over the months of the Covid-19 epidemic. By comparison, there were an estimated 73,500 deaths due to HIV/Aids in 2020 in South Africa. In the absence of the pandemic, HIV/Aids would have been the leading single cause of death. Nearly 54,000 deaths from unnatural causes were predicted for 2020. By the end of the year, just over 49,000 unnatural deaths had taken place, suggesting that about 5,000 unnatural deaths were averted through lockdown measures. Because the excess deaths were closely correlated with the surges in Covid infections, the authors estimate that at least 85% of excess natural deaths were caused by SARS-CoV-2 infections. This implies deaths — at least 85% of 76,000, or 64,600 — were much higher than the 28,469 officially confirmed Covid-19 deaths. The number of excess deaths estimated for this year up till 31 July by the MRC is even greater than last year: about 137,000. Yet by this date the official health department Covid death toll for 2021 was 43,000. Assuming the real number of Covid deaths is about 85% of the excess deaths, then there had been about 116,000 Covid deaths by 31 July. Put simply, people who are dying at home, or undiagnosed with Covid in hospital, are not being counted in the health department death toll.