Excess deaths across South Africa have not risen sharply despite a huge wave of Covid-19 omicron infections, according to new data released on Wednesday evening.
The figures further raise hopes that the highly mutated omicron variant may be milder than other forms of the virus – although experts warned that this may not help the NHS.
Between November 29 to December 4 – just as South Africa’s omicron wave is thought to have started – national excess deaths across the country were already 21 per cent that expected based on data from 2014 to 2019.
From the 5th to the 11th December – after the country’s omicron wave was declared – excess deaths rose only slightly, to 23 per cent above the average.
This is significant because excess deaths is a measure of the number of people who have died during a given crisis, irrespective of the cause, compared to that which could have been expected under “normal” conditions. It is considered a “gold standard” to assess the overall impact of a disease.
“This is another piece of the puzzle. It’s not virological evidence. It’s not clinical evidence. But it does ultimately suggest that omicron is causing a more mild form of the disease,” Professor Thomas Moultrie, a demographer at the University of Cape Town, told The Telegraph.
“Excess deaths in Gauteng province [the epicentre of the outbreak] remain at almost negligible levels. There is still no strong excess natural mortality signal from Gauteng.
“There has been extensive speculation as to whether there has been a decoupling between infections, hospitalisations and deaths and while we might still benefit from a few more weeks of data, the evidence is certainly pointing that direction,” he said.