Preparation for a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections is not in the hands of the South African governments alone. This time around, even South African life insurers are shoring up their capital reserves as they brace for a fifth wave of coronavirus infections.
Africa’s possible biggest insurer, Sanlam, has said it will hold three times its typical discretionary capital, increasing reserves to R3 billion or $199 million for some leverage, and to give it headroom to grapple with uncertainties caused by the pandemic.
“The group will hold a significantly higher level of discretionary capital until such time that the we are satisfied that there is no risk to group earnings and dividends from the pandemic,” chief executive officer Paul Hanratty said in a statement.
Covid-19 deaths contributed to excess claims of 4.2 billion rand for Sanlam in 2021.
While fewer than 100,000 people have officially died of the virus in South Africa, excess deaths during the pandemic climbed to 301,106 in the week ended 5 March. That metric is seen as a more accurate way of measuring the impact of Covid-19 than official statistics, and means that as many as one in 200 in the country may have been killed.
And another major player in the sector and South Africa’s second-biggest listed insurer, Discovery, has put dividend payments on ice until it receives certainty on the trajectory of the virus. The company has not paid out to shareholders since before the pandemic, and held back even as other financial firms reinstated outlays.
The firms Chief Executive Adrian Gore said in an interview that “In our country, it has been primarily about death, and the South African effect on mortality has been very bad.”
South Africa is currently in a lull following the omicron-driven fourth wave this past December, but Sanlam projects a new one is coming toward the middle of the year. The virus is aggressively mutating.
“There’s still 25 to 30 people dying a day right now of Covid,” Hanratty said. “I think for two or three years, at a minimum, we’re gonna see elevated levels of mortality, and we just have to hope it’s not really as bad as things were in the third wave, when it was very severe.”
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