South Africa coronavirus death toll could be 'far higher', say researchers


South African researchers say the number of deaths from coronavirus could be far higher than the official toll.


The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) report says natural deaths rose by 17,000, a 59% increase compared to the last few years.


On Thursday the country said there had been a record 572 deaths in the last 24 hours.


South Africa currently has the fifth highest number of confirmed cases worldwide with more than 400,000 infections and a death toll of 5,940.


South Africa currently has the fifth highest number of confirmed cases worldwide with more than 400,000 infections and a death toll of 5,940.


Professor Debbie Bradshaw, one of the authors, said it revealed a "huge discrepancy" in the numbers.


That number suggests there have been 11,000 unexplained deaths.


Early on in the pandemic, South Africa recorded 9% fewer deaths on average compared to previous years, which has been attributed to a ban on alcohol and the national lockdown.


It is not clear if the higher number of deaths being recorded more recently is purely down to the pandemic, but researchers think this could be a factor. There are also concerns people are dying because they are staying away from hospitals, for fear of becoming infected or because of a lack of space.


South Africa is the worst affected nation on the continent.


In a televised address on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the closure of public schools for four weeks amid the sharply rising case numbers.


President Ramaphosa initially imposed a strict lockdown in the country at the end of March, even banning the sale of cigarettes and alcohol in a bid to ease pressure on health workers.


The restrictions were enforced by soldiers on the streets in a bid to bring the outbreak under control. Authorities later lifted the alcohol ban as business reopened and people returned to work.

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