Second COVID-19 wave in South Africa far deadlier than first wave

The second wave of COVID-19 in South Africa, which is driven by the new variant 501Y.V2, is far deadlier than the first wave, with nearly 20,000 deaths in two months.

The coronavirus outbreak in South Africa started in March 2020 and the number of infections peaked between 5 July and 11 July at over 13,000 new cases per day.

In September and October, there was a relatively quiet spell with between 1,000 and 2,000 new confirmed daily COVID-19 cases per day.

In November, the number of infections started to surge again and by the beginning of December, the country was recording over 5,000 new cases per day.

This second wave started in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape but has since spread to other provinces.

The second wave seems to have peaked between 8 January and 14 January 2021, with over 18,000 new coronavirus cases per day being recorded.

The second wave has therefore seen a higher number of coronavirus infections than the first wave. This is partly because the new SARS-CoV-2 variant is 50% more transmissible than the older variant.

The 501Y.V2 variant, which was originally reported in South Africa, has mutations in the spike protein. This protein binds to the human cells to facilitate infection.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said these variants are believed to increase binding to the receptor on human cells and increase transmission.

Another reason may be that people can be re-infected with the new variant even if they had COVID-19 before.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said mutations have allowed the virus to become resistant to antibody neutralization.

While the new variant is more infectious, Professor Salim Abdool Karim said there is no clear evidence of the new variant results in more severe symptoms or a higher death rate.

South Africa did, however, experience a much higher number of deaths during the second wave than the first wave.

The number of deaths during the second wave is 158% higher than the first wave. The number of deaths per 1,000 cases is also much higher than the first wave.

There can be many reasons for the higher death rate, including overcrowded hospitals and the way deaths are reported.

First wave versus second wave in South Africa

To compare the first and second COVID-19 waves in South Africa, MyBroadband looked at the number of cases and deaths between a comparable two-month period during each wave.

What this comparison shows is that there are currently 34% more cases during the second wave than the first wave, and 158% more deaths.

It further shows that there were 16 deaths per 1,000 cases during the first wave and 31 deaths per 1,000 cases during the second wave.

The table below provides an overview of the most prominent statistics during the first and second waves of COVID-19 in South Africa.

First versus Second COVID-19 Waves in South Africa
Measure First Wave Second Wave Change
Dates 2 June 2020 to 2 Aug 2020 23 Nov 2020 to 23 Jan 2021
Confirmed Cases 475,673 635,080 34%
Tests 2,275,245 2,642,664 16%
Cases per 1,000 tests 209 240 15%
Peak daily cases 13,994 21,980 57%
Deaths 7,611 19,606 158%
Deaths per 1,000 cases 16 31 94%

First and second waves (courtesy of Media Hack)

Daily Confirmed Cases


Test and positive cases (courtesy of Media Hack)


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Second COVID-19 wave in South Africa far deadlier than first wave