About half of South Africa’s population is thought to have contracted Covid-19, studies and statisticians say, suggesting the virus has claimed tens of thousands more lives than officially recorded.
The country worst hit by the coronavirus in Africa has registered more than 140,000 excess natural deaths since May 2020, according to the South African Medical Research Council.
Leading private medical insurance Discovery estimates that about 90% of those fatalities are attributable to Covid-19, pushing the real death toll past 120,000.
Officially, South Africa has recorded close to 1.5 million coronavirus cases, of which just under 48,500 have been fatal.
But statisticians believe those figures are under-estimated.
Their findings are broadly consistent with coronavirus antibody surveys, which can detect whether a person has been infected with Covid-19 even after recovery.
A study released last week of almost 5,000 blood donors across four provinces found that between 32% and 63% of sampled individuals had contracted coronavirus since the pandemic started – compared with clinically confirmed case rates of 2% to 3%.
Most antibodies were detected in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, both epicenters of South Africa’s second infection wave when it started in December, one month before the study was conducted.