Picture: Evgenia Novozhenina/Pixabay
Picture: Evgenia Novozhenina/Pixabay

Covid-19 projections: 40 000 people could die by November, say experts

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published May 20, 2020

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Johannesburg - Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says additional beds would be added to the national count as modelling projections show that South Africa could see 40 000 people die from the coronavirus related complications by November. Mkhize's comments were made during a webinar on Tuesday night. 

The release of the modelling comes after mounting pressure for government to share the data it was using to justify its decisions on the national lockdown and the regulations that have been put in place.

The Covid-19 Modeling Consortium, a group of scientists advising government on projections and modelling which help to inform policy on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in the country, have presented two scenarios for the coming months.

Their modeling shows that by May/June South Africa could see close to 500 Covid-19 deaths. The number of those infected within the same period is expected to be just over 40 000 nationally.

As of May 19, the country had recorded 17 200 cases and 312 deaths. There have been 488 609 tests conducted nationally. And recoveries stood at 7 960.

The projections painted an even grim picture for November with cases expected to be between 1 million and 1.5 million cases. With deaths, just over 40 000 people could die from the virus by November.

Dr Sheetal Silal of the Modeling and Simulation Hub, one of the organisations that have contributed to creating scientific models for Covid-19, explained that projections and modelling were looked at from an optimistic and pessimistic perspective.

She stressed these models may be subject to change.

"These scenarios are founded on the assumption that after the 5-week lockdown, level 4 will continue for the next month, followed by a set of social distancing measures. It's important to realise that these projections, as they are being updated on a regular basis, even these assumptions of what interventions may come into force in the coming months will also be updated," Silal said.

The experts also looked at the possibility of whether the different levels of the lockdown have helped so far. The country had been in level five of strict national lockdown which put restrictions on movement for five weeks. This possibly helped reduce cases by between 40% and 60%. Level 4 probably helped reduce cases by 25% and 35%. And social distancing from the end of May could contribute to a reduction in cases between 10% and 20%.

Provinces were expected to see peaks in infections at different times, the experts said.

The projections also showed that South Africa could experience a severe shortage of hospital beds before the peak in cases is reached. The country currently has over 125 000 beds available in the private and public sector.

Of these about 4 000 were ICU beds, but Silal said these may not be enough. Additional ICU beds had been added, Mkhize said.

He said additional beds would be added such as to the temporary health centre created at Nasrec Expo Centre in Joburg.

"I think we must just note that there will be this issue of ICU bed shortfall, but based on the current plans we are working on and also the forecast of the additional resources needed, there should be additional procurement that will help the numbers at that point," Mkhize said.


* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL's  special #Coronavirus page.

** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit  sacoronavirus.co.za 

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