Nearly 400 mineworkers infected with coronavirus despite safety measures

The gold mining sector has so far borne the brunt of coronavirus infections among employees, as mining companies ramp up production following the easing of lockdown regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

According to information released by the Minerals Council of South Africa on Friday, a total of 383 mineworkers were infected, and over 200 of them were in the gold sector.

CEO of the Minerals Council, Roger Baxter, told journalists that although cases were expected to rise, the industry was confident that the health and safety measures put in place to prevent infections were adequately implemented.

"In an organised sector like mining, we are going to see more cases emerging," he said, adding that infections also came out of communities where employees reside.

It may take a while before companies could reach full production levels, he added.

Baxter noted that the industry was not totally shut down during the first 21 days of the lockdown. Companies are now operating at 50% capacity on average, while some coal mines and open-cast operations are up to 90% level.

Shortage of tests

He stressed that blanket testing of employees was not feasible, as there was a shortage of testing kits in the country; however, employees were screened prior to entering the workspace.

Last week, AngloGold Ashanti suspended underground operations at Mponeng mine in Carletonville after a cluster of coronavirus infections were detected. The mining industry has conducted some 4 600 tests.

Companies would not be recalling all employees at once as they increase production, as measures have been taken not yet allow those with comorbidity ailments to return to work at this stage. Workers who are from countries in the region have also not yet summoned to return to work.

Between 10 and 15% of Gold Fields employees were from outside the country, according to spokesperson Sven Lunsche, while about 20% of Sibanye-Stillwater workforce came from the region.

Lunsche said it would take the company a month or more to reach full production. 

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