As many as four out of five South Africans may have already contracted the novel coronavirus, a statistic that could indicate that the country is one of the hardest hit by the disease in the world, according to Emile Stipp, the chief actuary of healthcare insurance provider Discovery.
The 80% infection rate may not be so far-fetched. Due to COVID-19’s nature of often presenting without symptoms, many South Africans may have simply not known they were infected. The COVID-19 Delta variant can also present with mild flu-like symptoms which may have led many individuals to simply believe they had a cold.
Stipp, however, based this latest insight on calculations on the country’s case-fatality and excess deaths, a measure of the number of fatalities compared to a historical average. According to Bloomberg, these measures are thought to provide a more accurate picture of the impact of the pandemic than the official toll.
“If we know the mortality rate of COVID, we can deduce the likely infection level,” said Stipp. As estimated by the chief actuary, South Africa’s real infection rate is between 70% and 80% is considered high by global standards. This high rate could possibly push the country into the much-discussed herd immunity – a phenomanon that occurs when enough of a population creates antibodies of (or is vaccinated against) a certain virus, which leads to the gradual waning of that virus’ infections.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America estimates that when a country reaches an infection rate of 80% and 90%, herd immunity becomes increasingly likely. However, due to COVID-19’s high rate of mutation, it is still possible that a future variant may re-increase the infection rate. For example, the Delta variant currently circulating across the planet could possibly reinfect those South Africans that have already built antibodies against previous strains.
SA’s Official COVID Death Rate May Be Understimated
In England only 18% of blood doners were shown to have antibodies from prior infections, according to Public Health England’s recent report. This number leaps to 97% when those with antibodies from vaccinations are included. About 61% of England’s population is fully inoculated, compared to South Africa’s 7.1%.
Stipp said that his assessment is based on the assumption that 90% of excess deaths reported by South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) were due to COVID-19. The SAMRC estimates SA’s excess death number rose to 229,850 during the pandemic, compared with an official Covid-19 death toll of 77,993. The country’s case fatality rate is 3%.
South Africa has the highest number of infections and deaths in Africa. It also has the most widespread testing and monitoring of cause of death.