Johannesburg – The latest Covid-19 infections, hospital admissions and fatalities in South Africa paint a picture of a country deep in the throes of the pandemic.
This week alone, over 400 deaths were recorded daily for three consecutive days, suggesting the emergence of a growing trend.
Health experts say the spike in Covid-19 related deaths is caused by the health system starting to buckle under the pressure of the high test positivity rate, as well as the slow vaccination drive, which could have saved many lives, if more people were vaccinated at least two weeks prior to the third wave of infections.
Nationally, 22 443 new cases and 374 deaths were recorded on Friday night. 63 873 have succumbed to the virus in the country since the pandemic began in March, last year.
In Gauteng, which is currently the epicentre of the pandemic in the country, the total number of confirmed cases exceeded 750 000, as of Saturday morning. The number of tests returning positive nationwide continued to hover around the 30% mark.
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Meanwhile, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said the total number of vaccines administered was 175 740, on Friday, taking the cumulative number of inoculations to date to 4 203 293.
Independent public health practitioner Dr Shakira Choonara said the spike in fatalities can be attributed to many factors.
“It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the spike in Covid-19 deaths over a three-day period,” she said.
Choonara indicated that, out-patients with comorbidities, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the shortage of medical equipment, as some of the contributing factors.
“While we know that the Delta variant is at play and reports state that both the World Health Organization and the NICD attribute the surge to it, the evidence is still emerging on whether it is deadlier. In South Africa, this could very well be the case.”
Choonara also attributed the increasing deaths to the slow vaccination programme.
“The vaccine rollout has been too slow and coverage is negligible at this stage. Government did not leverage the vaccine as a mechanism or strategy to protect the population. This should have been the first mechanism prioritised within the pandemic response,” she said.
Associate professor Benjamin Smart from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) said while the vast majority of the population remains unvaccinated, a spike in deaths will naturally follow a spike in cases, with a lag of around 2-4 weeks.
“We are in the midst of our third wave, and only a small percentage of the population has been vaccinated, so this was to be expected.
“Undoubtedly, the number of deaths, thus far, would have been higher, had nobody been vaccinated. Vaccinations would have saved the lives of many of those over 60s vaccinated at least 4 weeks prior to catching Covid-19, as well as preventing many from getting infected in the first place,” he said. He added that fatalities would start to drop in the next few weeks.
“The number of deaths will start to drop a couple of weeks after the number of new daily cases consistently declines. I wouldn’t like to predict the number of deaths, while we still don’t know how long the third wave will last. And, I don’t have access to the latest modelling data at this stage,” he said.
Alfred Thutloa, the head of corporate communications at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), said the increase in deaths reflects the steep increase in infections that took place a week or two ago.
“Deaths due to Covid-19 lag cases and hospitalisations. We expect deaths to continue increasing after cases have peaked,” said Thutloa.
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