Impala Platinum (Implats) has temporarily shut down its Marula mine in Limpopo Province after finding a "cluster" of positive Covid-19 cases.
In a statement on Saturday, the company said the decision had been taken following "stringent and comprehensive screening, testing and tracing protocols" that identified 19 positive cases, all of whom were asymptomatic.
All the employees have been isolated and visited by Department of Health officials at the quarantine site.
"Of these cases, 14 were identified as a result of proactive testing of employees returning to work. None of these employees had started work at the mine," Implats said. Of the remaining five, one was the primary contact and the remaining four were found through contact tracing.
But the company expressed concern that there could be a higher incidence of Covid-19 than initially thought.
"Significantly, 17 of the confirmed cases reside locally, suggesting the prevalence of Covid-19 among local communities is far higher than the company’s initial estimates had indicated," Implats said.
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy recently published mandatory health and safety guidelines for the mining sector for managing the coronavirus pandemic within the workplace.
The code of practice was developed following a Labour Court order in a case that had been brought by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). According to the guidelines, companies must, among other precautions, conduct a risk-based assessment of employees as they return to work.
Employees who show signs of infection must be screened and isolated, while work areas, transport facilities and mine accommodation must be disinfected.
Union representatives had voiced concerns over the safety of mineworkers as they return to work during the pandemic.
CEO Nico Muller said Implats "fully" supported government's "decisive action" to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, and that the company would continue to comply with government and industry guidelines, as well as company initiatives.