The number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa could be out by many thousands, as several tens of thousands of tests have yet to be processed.

Some confusion arose yesterday about just how large the backlog is, with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize saying it was 30 000, the acting director-general of the Department of Health, Anban Pillay, saying it was 80 000 – telling MPs in Parliament’s health committees that he had confirmed this with National Health Laboratory Services CEO Dr Karmani Chetty – and Western Cape Premier Alan Winde saying he thought it was about 100 000.

Mkhize said the figure depended on which day the backlog was counted, adding that the backlogs were eradicated as testing kits became available.

‘At the moment, we haven’t classified it [backlogs] as a problem,’ he said.

News24 reported that Mkhize told the National Assembly’s first virtual sitting on Wednesday that the country was doing everything it could to keep up with the required level of testing, but that there are ‘constraints beyond our control’ arising from the global shortage of reagents.

On Wednesday, Western Cape MPL and chairperson of the provincial legislature’s ad hoc committee on Covid-19 Mireille Wenger said the province’s backlog stood then at 18 000.

‘If we can’t measure, we can’t manage,’ she said.

In another report, News24 said the Eastern Cape had a backlog of more than 20 000 Covid-19 tests, with its 38 laboratories ‘battling to clear the problem due to a deluge of samples coming in daily, and a global shortage’.

It cited a letter of 21 May from the area manager of the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), Tabita Makula, saying the province’s labs fell behind when the Eastern Cape began testing everyone, including those ‘under investigation’ but showing no Covid-19 symptoms.

As the tobacco industry prepares to test the government’s ban on cigarettes, Business Insider analysed the arguments put forward by cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in papers filed with the high court in Pretoria this week. This is first time the government has disclosed the scientific studies it says led to the decision to ban cigarette sales during the coronavirus lockdown.

The 17-page affidavit is in response to an action by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association.

Business Insider’s Phillip de Wet writes that Dlamini-Zuma dwells on the harm cigarettes do generally, and the near-immediate benefits that quitting brings. She also advances an argument that there is reason to suspect a direct link between severe Covid-19 and smoking, plus an increased risk of catching the disease in the first place for smokers.

De Wet writes: ‘In support of that, Dlamini-Zuma’s affidavit gives the appearance of citing four different studies that found a link between smoking and severe cases of Covid-19, plus another piece of research that proposes a mechanism by which smokers could be making themselves more likely to be infected.

‘In reality she effectively cites one study of some value three different ways. And that study did not deal with smoking, but only happened to include statistics others could use to reach a conclusion.

‘The additional piece of research on the mechanism (which Dlamini-Zuma does not present as a study) turns out to be a letter which, if anything, undermines her case.’

In other virus-related news

  • The Financial Times reported that the UK has suffered the second-highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic after Spain, according to excess mortality figures. The UK has registered 59 537 more deaths than usual since the week ending March 20, indicating that the virus has directly or indirectly killed 891 people per million. Until Thursday, the UK had a higher rate of death than in any country for which high-quality data exist. However, Spain has made a revision to its mortality estimates, adding 12 000 to its toll of excess deaths from coronavirus in a one-off adjustment to 43 000. This increased its death rate to 921 per million;
  • The US has recorded more than 100 000 deaths from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. New York City, especially hard hit, is seeing a drop in the death rate – but one study shows it rising in 20 US states; and
  • Johns Hopkins University said there were more than 5.6 million confirmed cases worldwide and 355 000 deaths.


  1. It’s looking more and more pointless to trust data regarding Covid-19 especially in countries with unreliable, irresponsible people doing the monitoring and correlating, and perhaps also having an interest in pushing results one way or another. Who trusts anything to do with the ANC?

    Somewhat off topic, I have it from a reliable source that some people have been tested positive and when insisting on a re-test are found to be negative, and that in these cases the positive test result is not erased. This suggests that the tests are far from accurate in the first place, and certainly the statistics.


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