May 21, 2020 / 11:38 AM / 2 months ago

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

A police officer keeps watch as people wearing protective face masks queue to receive food aid amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Itireleng informal settlement, near Laudium suburb in Pretoria, South Africa, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 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.

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 ninth 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.

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

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

“With the lockdown we were creating a physical barrier that prevents the virus from moving,” said Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize.

“The lockdown had a particular value. Now we are trying to move to a slightly different strategy which is the risk-adjusted approach.”

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; editing by Nick Macfie

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