(Bloomberg) -- The resurgence of South Africa’s coronavirus outbreak coincided with a record number of excess deaths in the third week of December, suggesting a far higher death toll from Covid-19 than reflected in the latest health ministry data.
Weekly natural excess deaths, a measure of mortality exceeding historical averages, reached 6,974 by Dec. 23, the highest in 2020 and more than the previous peak of 6,933 recorded at the height of the first wave of the outbreak in July, the South African Medical Research Council said in a weekly report published on Wednesday. Overall, between May 6 and Dec. 29, there were 71,778 more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected.
The health ministry recorded a total of 31,368 Covid-19 deaths as of Wednesday. The latest excess deaths figures strongly suggest that “a significant proportion of the current excess mortality being observed in South Africa is likely to be attributable to Covid-19,” the report said.
The report also showed a steep rise in the percentage change between the estimated number of deaths from natural causes and the predicted number based on historical data -- a measure known as the P-Score -- in almost all of South Africa’s nine provinces. Eastern Cape, which has been hardest hit by the coronavirus in terms of total confirmed deaths, registered a 145% change in the week to Dec. 23, while KwaZulu-Natal had a 132% rise.
Tracking excess mortality is widely seen as way to gage the full scale of fatalities from Covid-19. It includes those suspected of having the coronavirus who died without being tested, as well as people who died of other causes after being unable to seek treatment because hospitals were swamped.