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Deaths from “unnatural causes” in South Africa are a third lower than normal

Adam Oxford
Adam Oxford
2020-05-07

The Financial Times has a great piece this morning updating its look at the impact of Covid-19 on national death rates. For most countries covered, it’s pretty big. Look:

But look at South Africa – the chart actually shows a decline in expected mortality rates for this time of year. It’s not surprising that Covid-19 hasn’t driven cases up – after all, there are only 153 known cases where it was a contributing factor. Desperately sad, but barely a rounding error on national statistics. The FT gets its numbers from the SA Medical Research Council, which is publishing data frequently (albeit in PDF format without the raw tables, grrr) during the crisis. What it;s tracking is that deaths from natural causes (including Covid-19) are well within the bounds of normal. Almost dead on predicted rates, in fact.

But here’s deaths from unnatural causes – car accidents, violence, workplace accidents, etc – have flatlined. It may not be surprising, but it is incredible. They’re at 50% of the lowest estimate, and nearly a third below the predicted level.

It seems safe to assume that other countries are also seeing similar patterns (although they don’t have the same high baseline rates of murder, workplace accidents and traffic deaths as South Africa does). Which means that the spikes in the FT’s article are even more dramatic because they are on top of these drops.

Adam Oxford
  • Adam Oxford is a freelance journalist, media consultant and civic tech enthusiast. He also works closely with startups developing solutions to access to justice problems.

2 Comments

  • Miranda

    It is indeed very interesting to look at the historic figures now, 41 days after the article was published. It would be even more interesting to see the updated graphs… Did I perhaps miss it or did the pdf tables get the best of our journalist permanently..? hint-hint

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