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SA excess deaths peak at fraction of previous Covid waves

South African excess deaths, regarded as a true indication of the impact of Covid-19, have peaked during the Omicron-driven wave of infections at a fraction of the numbers seen in outbreaks caused by earlier variants.

The number of excess deaths, a measure of mortality against a historical average, in the week to Dec. 26 fell to 3 016 from 3087 the week earlier, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. Official deaths due to Covid-19 declined to 425 from 428.

The excess death decline was the first in three weeks.

That compares with a peak of 16 115 in the week to January 10, 2021, when the beta variant was ripping through the country and South Africa had yet to start its vaccination drive.

In July (2021) weekly excess deaths peaked at just over 10 000 during a wave of infections driven by the Delta variant while the initial outbreak, caused by the virus first identified in China, peaked at 6 674 in July 2020.

“The number of estimated excess deaths has begun to decrease, consistent with the trend in the number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths,” the council said.

“This observation is strongly supportive that a significant proportion of the current excess mortality being observed in South Africa is likely to be attributable to Covid-19.”

South Africa, which on November 25 was the first country to announce the discovery of the highly infectious Omicron variant, has served as a harbinger of how the latest stage of the pandemic may play out globally.

Hospitalizations have been lower than in previous waves and doctors have reported patients with milder symptoms. The wave of infections has also risen faster and then declined more rapidly than earlier outbreaks.

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While official deaths from the coronavirus during the course of the pandemic in South Africa have been tallied at 91 561, the excess death figure is more than 286 000.

Excess deaths appear to have peaked in the province of Gauteng, where the Omicron variant was first identified, as well as in three of the country’s other eight provinces.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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