Picture: 123RF/KZENON
Picture: 123RF/KZENON

SA experienced a record number of 16,532 deaths in a single week in the last week of December, according to the SA Medical Research Council (MRC). 

The record number of deaths comes as SA is in the midst of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of deaths in the second wave so far already exceeding the number of deaths in the first. 

Covid-19 restrictions were tightened just after Christmas in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. 

“During the week including Christmas, the number of natural deaths exceeded the predicted number by 84%, resulting in an excess of 6,974 deaths from natural causes among persons [older than one] year,” the MRC report said.

The council tracks SA’s mortality numbers and is able to compare the number of natural deaths in a period with those in the same period in previous years, with the difference between them known as “excess deaths”.

The measure has been widely used internationally to track the effect of Covid-19 on mortality as not all Covid-19-related deaths are necessarily captured.

During the period between May 6 and December 29, there were 71,778 excess deaths from natural causes of persons older than one year.

This was determined by using the revised base accounting for lower mortality during lockdown, the MRC said. The lower base takes into account that seasonal flu did not circulate to the same extent in 2020.

People over the age of 60 years accounted for the largest share of this, with excess deaths for that group amounting to 44,482, while ages one to 59 years accounted for 25,292 of the deaths.

The report also highlights provincial trends. KwaZulu-Natal experienced a rapid increase in natural deaths during the week in question, reaching a record high of 2,052 deaths, double the peak of the first wave. 

Natural deaths in the Western Cape also increased rapidly, with 950 excess natural deaths occurring during the Christmas week. 

In the Eastern Cape, where the second wave appears to have originated, the rise in excess deaths continued but at a slower rate than previously, with 2,069 recorded. This may show early signs of the second wave abating in the province, the report said. 

“There are indications of a slowdown in the increase, but the number of deaths is more than 50% higher than at the peak of the first wave,” the report said. 

In Gauteng, where the second wave is just beginning, deaths from natural causes doubled over Christmas from 401 to 838.

Similar upticks have been experienced in the City of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and the City of Tshwane, the trends showed, while natural deaths also increased across all other provinces. 


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