South Africa


Record number of South Africans died in first week of 2021

Record number of South Africans died in first week of 2021
A high proportion of excess deaths are likely to be due to Covid-19. However, there is no way to be certain of this without further investigation. (Photo by Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

11,000 of the nearly 20,000 deaths are considered excess deaths. The vast majority are likely due to Covid-19.

First published in GroundUp

South Africa had a record 10,907 excess deaths from natural causes in the week of 30 December to 5 January, according to the 11 January mortality surveillance report from the Burden of Disease Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). In total, 20,063 people died in one week.

The latest mortality surveillance report presents a harrowing picture of the devastation wrought by the second wave of Covid-19 infections.

By comparison, in the worst years of the AIDS epidemic (in the 2000s), there were at most about 6,000 excess deaths due to the disease each week. But this went on year after year, while the current Covid-19 surge will subside in the short-term.

This graph published by the SAMRC shows how much worse the second Covid-19 surge is than the first one that peaked in July. (Image: Supplied)

KwaZulu-Natal was the province with the highest number of excess deaths due to natural causes, with 3,389. In eThekwini alone, there were 875 excess deaths in the first week of the new year. While excess deaths in the Eastern Cape grew at a slower rate, 2,298 were recorded. Gauteng faced a rapid increase, with 1,725 excess deaths. The Western Cape recorded 1,432 excess deaths in one week, more than double the weekly peak of the first wave in July of 601 excess deaths.

Meanwhile, the SAMRC reports that deaths due to unnatural causes (vehicle collisions, murders, suicides, accidents) in the week of 30 December to 5 January fell below the lower bound of predicted unnatural deaths.

Depending on the methodology used, the SAMRC estimates there have been 78,000 or 84,000 excess deaths since 6 May, the date at which an uptick in excess deaths was first noted. (The first figure, 78,000, is a comparison against historical data. The second takes into account the fact that mortality actually dropped in the first few weeks of lockdown and uses a different basis of comparison.) Of these excess deaths, about 55,000 were people over the age of 60, and about 30,000 were people between 1 and 59 years old.

The Minister of Health’s 12 January press release reported that 34,334 people have died of Covid-19. The reason that this is so much lower than the SAMRC estimate is that many people would have died of Covid without being diagnosed. Also, it’s possible that some people with other diseases did not have the same level of care they might have had before Covid because the hospitals are so stretched. The SAMRC report states that “a significant proportion of the current excess mortality being observed in South Africa is likely to be attributable to Covid-19”. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.



    • Harro von Blottnitz says:

      The difference between the expected number of deaths shown by the coloured lines and the actual number of deaths as shown in the black line.

  • Stephen Davies says:

    Frightening figures. Can Daily Maverick confirm that this isn’t a reporting anomaly caused by no reporting or processing over Christmas?

  • Noeline Verbizier says:

    “Also, it’s possible that some people with other diseases did not have the same level of care they might have had before Covid because the hospitals are so stretched.” There is so much co-morbidity in those figures due to the appalling conditions in state hospitals and clinics and shortages of medications for all illnesses that are not covid. How many sufferers of TB, Diabetes and HIV have not had their medications since lockdown due to shortages and the fear of collecting their meds? How many have died of stress, suicide and starvation? This one-sided reporting is the same scare mongering that goes on in the mainstream press. I would have expected a more balanced picture from DM!

  • Coen Gous says:

    And who the hell is responsible. The list is long: 1. China, where it started, but also SA Government’s preferred love partner. 2. SA Government, by allowing flights from China, Europe, God knows, everywhere. They were fast asleep (still is). 3. Entrusting decisions to a bunch of incompetent government ministers, called NCCC. 4. Enrolling friends as preferred advisors, who basically simply stuffed up. 5. A president who has no idea what he is doing, being a disciple of the ruling party. 6 -100: repeat above 20 times

  • Mari Bekker says:

    I wonder how many of the excess deaths are as a result of COVID complications (like hospital-acquired/secondary infections, septic bedsores, blood clots etc.)? I’m referring to deaths that happen after the person would have recovered from the COVID 19-infection. Or do such cases still form part of the COVID deaths that the Dept of Health reports?

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