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

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, May 21, 2020.

Zweli Mkhize
South African Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize

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.

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“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 three million possible coronavirus cases by November, while demand for hospital beds is seen peaking at 45,000, around 10 times the current intensive care bed availability.

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

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“With the lockdown we were creating a physical barrier that prevents the virus from moving.

“The lockdown had a particular value. Now we are trying to move to a slightly different strategy which is the risk-adjusted approach,” said Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize.

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