A recent study and analysis of death figures in South Africa suggested
that almost half the population may have already been infected by coronavirus,
a figure far higher than the documented tally, AFP reported. Samples collected
from almost 5,000 blood donors across four South African provinces in January
showed that between 32-63% had antibodies to the coronavirus. People with
confirmed or suspected COVID-19 were unable to donate blood for 14 days, and
therefore less likely to be sampled.

The figure compares with clinically confirmed case rates of just 2-3%,
according to South African research that was released online last week, but has
not yet completed peer review.

Also Read | South Africa to return 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Serum Institute

Despite the huge numbers, the data could still be understated, said lead
investigator Marion Vermeulen of the South African National Blood Service.

Most antibodies were detected in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal
provinces, the two epicentres of South Africa’s second COVID-19 wave.

Officially, South Africa has recorded close to 1.5 million coronavirus
cases, of which just under 48,500 have been fatal — the highest toll in
Africa. According to the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), more
than 140,000 excess natural deaths have occurred since May last year. However,
the cause of rising numbers is not known.

Also Read | South Africa to administer Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

But the chief statistician with leading private medical insurer
Discovery said that, based on his observations, around 90% of those
extra fatalities are attributable to COVID-19.

If so, the real death toll from coronavirus in South Africa would exceed
120,000, chief actuary Emile Steep told AFP.

It is also easy to misrecord deaths at the height of a pandemic, when
“medical staff (are) running around trying to save lives”, he added.

The South African variant of the coronavirus, which is more
transmissible and more resistant to existing vaccines than its original form, has
accounted for over 90% of the country’s second wave of cases, scientists say.

The country kicked off its long-awaited inoculation campaign on
Wednesday with jabs developed by US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.