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PANDEMIC TOLL

Fourth wave of Covid shows higher number of cases — but fewer deaths

Fourth wave of Covid shows higher number of cases — but fewer deaths

South African life insurers reported a significant drop in death claims for the six months to the end of March 2022, compared with previous six-monthly reporting periods since the start of the pandemic.

Although the fourth Covid wave, which peaked in December 2021, claimed a higher incidence rate with more Omicron cases, the death rates appear to have dropped. 

Cases were milder with fewer deaths, largely on the back of improved vaccination rates. Slightly more than 37 million vaccines have been administered, according to the SA coronavirus home page.

Towards the end of last year, Discovery Health partnered with the South African Medical Research Council to conduct a study looking at the efficacy of vaccines against the Omicron variant. Discovery found that although incidences of Covid were higher, they were less severe with fewer hospital admissions. 

The analysis also showed that people who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had 70% protection against hospitalisation. While this protection was reduced from the highs of 93% in South Africa’s Delta-driven variant, 70% is still regarded as very good protection, said Ryan Noach, chief executive of Discovery Health.

South African life insurers reported a significant drop in death claims for the six months to the end of March 2022, when compared with previous six-monthly reporting periods since the start of the pandemic. South Africa experienced the fourth wave of Covid infections in December 2021, which peaked during the middle of that month.

The Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (Asisa) started tracking death claims against individual life, group life (offered by employers), credit life and funeral cover policies at the start of April 2020 to measure the impact of the pandemic on the long-term insurance industry. South Africa announced its first Covid case on 5 March 2020 and the first Covid death was reported on 27 March 2020.

Commenting on the death claims statistics released by Asisa today, Hennie de Villiers, deputy chair of the Asisa Life and Risk Board Committee, says that while the actual number of reported Covid cases was much higher during the fourth wave when compared with the first three waves, the number of death claims processed by life insurers during this period was significantly lower.

“We believe that the death rate during the fourth wave was lower because on average, infections caused by the Omicron variant were milder, more people had been vaccinated and a significant number of people had pre-existing immunity due to previous infections.”

The six-month death claims statistics show that 396,698 claims were received between 1 October 2021 and 31 March 2022 to a value of R28.5-billion.

“This is a significant drop from the more than half a million death claims received during the previous six-month period, which included the third wave. The most recent numbers are also closer to the 333,509 death claims received in the six months preceding the pandemic.”

The table below compares the death claims paid for the six months to the end of March 2022, which includes the fourth wave, to the previous six-month period, which includes the third wave. The table also details the death claims paid over the six months before the pandemic took off in South Africa.

Death claims and benefits paid:

* The fourth wave ran from the first week of December 2020 to the end of December 2021 and peaked during the middle of December.

** The third wave ran from the first week of May 2021 to the middle of September 2021 and peaked in the middle of July 2021.

*** SA announced its first Covid case on 5 March 2020 and the first Covid death was reported on 27 March 2020.

According to De Villiers, almost two million (1.99 million) death claims were received in the two years from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2022. Life insurers paid out benefits of R120.5-billion to the beneficiaries who submitted these death claims.

He says that while not every death was caused by Covid-19, there is no doubt that the pandemic was responsible for many of the additional deaths. 

“This could be directly as a result of a person contracting the virus or because people were reluctant or unable to seek medical attention for other serious conditions.”

However, having said that, De Villiers warned against complacency, saying that although the death rate was lower during the fourth wave, the number of death claims was still almost 20% higher than in the corresponding pre-pandemic period.

“Only around 50% of our adult population has been vaccinated and future variants may emerge as more aggressive.”

A case for risk cover

The statistics reflect that the life assurance industry has paid out almost two million life policies with a cumulative value of more than R120.5-billion in the two years since Covid hit our shores.

De Villiers says the best time to put in place sufficient cover to help your family survive financially is while you are healthy and able to qualify for cover at affordable rates and without exclusions.

“If you already have cover, it is of utmost importance that you continue paying your premiums so that you remain covered. If you let your policy lapse you may not be able to secure cover at the same rates — or even at all — when you apply for it again.” BM/DM

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