JOHANNESBURG (BLOOMBERG) – 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 by the disease, the chief actuary at Africa’s biggest health insurer said.
Mr Emile Stipp, the actuary at Discovery Health, based his calculations on the country’s case-fatality rate and excess 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.
“If we know the mortality rate of Covid-19, we can deduce the likely infection level,” Mr Stipp said in an e-mailed response to questions.
The infection rate of between 70 per cent and 80 per cent, as estimated by Mr Stipp, is high by global standards and could push South Africa close to so-called herd immunity, estimated at between 80 per cent and 90 per cent by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Still, it is possible that the Delta variant of the virus could reinfect those who contracted other strains.
In England, only 18 per cent of blood donors had antibodies showing prior infection, Public Health England said in an Aug 12 report.
That number jumped to 97 per cent when those with antibodies from vaccinations were included.
About 61 per cent of England’s population is fully inoculated, compared with 7.1 per cent in South Africa.
Mr Stipp said he based his assessment on the assumption that 90 per cent of excess deaths reported by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) 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 78,377.
The country’s case fatality rate is 3 per cent.
South Africa has the highest number of infections, with more than 2.6 million confirmed, and deaths in Africa.
It also has the most widespread testing and monitoring of cause of death.
In a May 13 presentation to the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, Mr Stipp estimated that 62.1 per cent of South Africans had contracted the virus – a number he has since revised.
The Eastern Cape, where 91.1 per cent of the population was thought to have been infected, was the worst-hit province, and Gauteng, at 43.4 per cent, and North West, at 35 per cent, 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 fully subside.
Surveys of blood donors in January and May put South Africa’s overall prior infection rate at 42.8 per cent.
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