It is possible that as many as four out of five South Africans may have contracted the coronavirus, indicating that the country may be one of the world’s hardest-hit nations, said the chief actuary at Africa’s biggest health insurer.
Emile Stipp, the chief actuary at Discovery Health, based his calculations on the country’s case-fatality rate and the excess of deaths, a measure of the number of fatalities compared with a historical average.
They are thought to provide a more accurate picture of the impact of the pandemic than the official toll published by the governement.
“If we know the mortality rate of Covid, we can deduce the likely infection level,” Stipp said.
The current infection rate of between 70% and 80%, as estimated by Stipp, is very high by global standards and could push South Africa close to the so-called herd immunity, estimated at between 80% and 90% by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Still, it’s possible that the delta variant of the virus could reinfect those who have contracted earlier strains of the virus.
In England only 18% of blood donors had antibodies showing prior infection, Public Health England said in a report on 12 August 2021. This number jumped to 97% when those with antibodies from vaccinations were included. About 61% of England’s population is already fully inoculated, compared with 7.1% in South Africa.
Stipp said he based the assessment on the assumption that 90% of excess deaths reported by the South African Medical Research Council were due to Covid-19. The SAMRC estimates South Africa’s excess death number at 238,949 during the pandemic, compared with an official Covid-19 death toll of only 78,377. The country’s case fatality rate is standing at 3%.
South Africa also has the highest number of infections, with over 2.6 million confirmed, and deaths in Africa. It also has the most widespread testing and monitoring of causes of death.
In a presentation on the 13th of May to Satsa, a tourism body, Stipp estimated that 62.1% of South Africans had already contracted the virus – a number he’s since revised.
The Eastern Cape, where 91.1% of the population was believed to have been infected, was the worst-hit province, and Gauteng, at 43.4%, and North West, at 35%, the least-affected.
The latter two provinces have posted record pandemic-era excess deaths in the country’s third wave of infections, which is yet to subside.
Surveys of blood donors from January to May put South Africa’s overall prior infection rate at 42.8%.