South Africa had its deadliest day yet in terms of Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize reporting a record 806 newly-confirmed fatalities linked to the virus.
This takes the country’s Covid-19 death toll past the psychological 35 000 mark, with Mkhize’s daily update confirming 35 140 coronavirus deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic locally in March last year.
While this is the official number actual Covid-19 deaths are likely to be much higher, with the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) noting a record spike in “excess deaths” for the period December 30, 2020 to January 5, 2021 in its weekly report on deaths in the country, published on Wednesday.
Mkhize’s latest update reported 18 555 new Covid-19 infections, taking the number of “active cases” countrywide to over 212 000.
South Africa has recorded 1 278 303 positive Covid-19 cases, from 7 358 741 tests conducted since the pandemic hit its shores 10 months ago. However, there has been 1 030 930 recoveries during this time, representing a recovery rate of 80.6%.
#COVID19 Statistics in SA as at 13 January .
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— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) January 13, 2021
The economic hub and most populous province of Gauteng accounts for over 27% (346 482) of total confirmed Covid-19 cases. KwaZulu-Natal, which now accounts for 20.7% (264 532) of cases since the outbreak, has surpassed the Western Cape (19.4% or 248 339 cases).
KwaZulu-Natal is also the current epicentre of the virus in SA, with a surge in new infections and the highest number of active Covid-19 cases (69 559) at present among the provinces.
The peak Christmas and New Year holiday period likely contributed to the spike, as holidaymakers headed to the coast and migrant workers went to their home towns.
KwaZulu-Natal is still reporting the highest number of new infections, with 5 432 confirmed cases on Wednesday, followed by Gauteng (5 022) and the Western Cape (2 913).
Gauteng is bracing for its second-wave pandemic peak as workers return from their holidays and home towns. The province now has the second highest number of active Covid-19 cases (47 919), followed by the Western Cape (42 473).
Of the 806 new Covid-19 deaths confirmed by Mkhize on Wednesday, KwaZulu-Natal accounted for 235 and Gauteng for 211. The Western Cape and Eastern Cape had 151 and 150 fatalities, respectively.
Meanwhile, the SAMRC’s latest report on excess deaths in South Africa shows a worrying trend.
Compiled by the council’s Burden of Disease Research Unit, the report says the weekly number of deaths of persons over one year of age from all causes continued to increase in the week December 30, 2020 to January 5, 2021, with the country experiencing a record number of 20 063 deaths in a single week.
“During the week including New Year’s Day the number of natural deaths exceeded the predicted number by 131%, resulting in an excess of 10 907 deaths from natural causes,” it notes.
“KwaZulu-Natal has experienced a rapid increase in natural deaths. The number of excess natural deaths in the week of December 30, 2020 to January 5, 2021 reached a record high of 3 389, more than double the peak of the first wave of 1 306 deaths,” the report says.
“Deaths from natural causes have increased rapidly in Gauteng in the past three weeks, with 1 725 excess deaths during the week of New Year. Similar upticks have been experienced in the City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and the City of Tshwane, each with an excess of about 500 deaths,” it adds.