Dear Business Partner,

2021 Takes Off Slowly – But there may be a Silver Lining!

The stricter lockdown rules imposed upon us on the eve of 2021 was certainly not what our collective psyches desired during the holidays and it didn’t bode all that well for the start of the new year.

However, here we are now – February is upon us, we have passed the 2nd peak of the pandemic and government has subsequently relaxed some of the lockdown rules. There appears almost a sense of revival and enthusiasm, despite the impending challenges we are facing as a nation.

There are some of us who are hoping that this will be the last wave of Covid-19 we have to endure. Hope has never quite been a strategy and, especially since government was so tardy in ordering vaccinations, the experts are warning that we are not yet out of the woods.

But there are some positive factors regarding where we are now and these generally do not grab headlines or enter the narrative of public debate.

I chatted recently with a healthcare actuary who has done extensive modelling around the pandemic. His models indicate that significantly more citizens have been infected with Covid-19 than the official stated figure of 1.45m (as of 1 February 2021) and that our strategy of achieving herd immunity needs to factor this in.

An article published in GroundUp by Prof Alex van den Heever of Wits University, strongly corroborates this view. His analysis, using excess death figures from the SA Medical Research Council and National Institute for Communicable Diseases, suggests that between 7.5m and 9m citizens may already have been infected – and more alarming, he believes that more than 100,000 deaths in SA can be attributed to Covid-19.

I was mentioning good news ……. But isn’t this really bad news?

Not actually – and here are four points as to why!

– Firstly, it is quite plausible that these excess Covid-19 deaths replaced a reasonable proportion of the 2020 winter influenza deaths that would have occurred if the pandemic had not materialised.

– Secondly, if Professor van den Heever’s figures are correct, then it means that the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of Covid-19 is a lot lower than the official fatality figure. The official figures as of 1 February 2021, show that 1.456m people have been infected and that 44,399 have succumbed to Covid-19 – this gives an official IFR of 3%. Using his analysis, the IFR is around 1.6% or roughly half the official figure, meaning that Covid-19 is not as fatal as the official figures indicate (NB: It is fair to the Professor to emphasise here that he cautions on some degree of uncertainty of his estimates but nonetheless we view them as encouraging).

– Thirdly, this means that many millions of South Africans have unknowingly been infected and then have recovered from Covid-19, which is a significant step towards us achieving herd immunity as a nation.

– Lastly, this also then indicates that we may need a lot less vaccine doses than initially estimated. It is clear from the difference between the number of tests performed (±1.45m) and the modelled infection figures above (±7.5m to 9m) that there are many millions who were infected but did not get tested.

If someone has unknowingly carried the disease asymptomatically and then recovered, they should already have a degree of immunity, which would indicate that they do not need to use up a vaccine dose. Given the supply challenges the country is facing, this could alleviate the pressure on dosage numbers and would require a revision in the vaccination roll-out strategy by testing people for Covid-19 antibodies before they get immunised. Apparently a quick finger-prick blood test is available to test for antibodies and results are available in 10 minutes.

Whilst we still have a way to go in getting back to normal, to us we take these as encouraging signs. In the meanwhile, we urge you to continue staying safe and invite you to join us in doing our collective best to get the most out of 2021.

I welcome any comments, queries or discussions. Please feel free to drop me a note on

Best wishes and keep safe,
Mike Settas