Scientists say up to 50,000 COVID-19 deaths possible in South Africa

Reuters

Posted at May 21 2020 07:48 PM

Scientists say up to 50,000 COVID-19 deaths possible in South Africa 1
Women and children run as people queue to receive food aid amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Itireleng informal settlement, near Laudium suburb in Pretoria, South Africa, May 20, 2020. Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa could see up to 50,000 coronavirus deaths and as many as 3 million infections by the end of the year as the southern hemisphere winter leads to a higher rate of infection, scientific models showed on Thursday.

The country already has the highest number of infections and deaths on the continent, with more than 18,000 identified cases and 339 deaths, but a national lockdown entering its sixth week had slowed infections.

However scientists and statisticians hired by the health ministry to model the spread of the disease said the country could see between 35,000 and 50,000 coronavirus deaths by November.

"We haven't really crushed the curve," said one of the experts, Harry Moultrie, in a presentation shown on television. "We also have some significant concerns that because of the focus on COVID-19, this may compromise other areas like HIV and TB."

The models, which consider best and worst scenarios, see as many 3 million possible coronavirus cases by November, while demand for hospital beds is seen peaking at 45,000, around ten times the current intensive care bed availability.

One of the models showed the lockdown had reduced the rate of infection by 60 percent, and that since the beginning of May when lockdown restrictions were eased, that had fallen to 30 percent.

"With the lockdown we were creating a physical barrier that prevents the virus from moving," said Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize.

"The lockdown had a particular value. Now we are trying to move to a slightly different strategy which is the risk-adjusted approach."