Sibanye: SA miners can scale up vaccination by inoculating workers and communities

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Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman. (Photo: Gallo Images)
Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Sibanye Stillwater, one of South Africa’s largest precious-metals producers, offered to help the government’s vaccination campaign by inoculating hundreds of thousands of mineworkers and people living in communities near its operations.

The company that employs about 84,000 workers has enough capacity at its 45 health and medical facilities to vaccinate 18,000 people a day, Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman said in an interview Thursday. The government should use Sibanye, as well as facilities at other mining companies, for its campaign because the industry has expertise in screening for and treating tuberculosis and HIV, he said.

"We see vaccination as a major issue in re-establishing economic stability," Froneman said.

"As an industry we probably have more capacity than the national health service and I think it’s really important that government takes note of that."

South Africa’s mining industry, which employs more than 450,000 people, immediately prepared a range of measures last year to curb the outbreak, from checking the temperature of workers to distributing flu shots and contact-tracing. Mines have their own health facilities because of the large concentration of workers in often remote locations.

Fellow miner Anglo American, which operates major health facilities around its mining operations, said it’s also prepared to back the government campaign.

"Should an opportunity arise for us to provide support in the Covid-19 vaccine roll out in the countries where we operate, then we will do everything we can to help," said Jana Marais, a spokeswoman for local unit Anglo American Platinum.

Africa’s most-industrialised economy has detected a more infectious strain of the virus, known as 501.V2. The country added more than 18 500 infections on Thursday and cases have surged to almost 1.3 million.

While the government has been criticized by the scientific community for the slow pace of its vaccine procurement, President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week it’s getting an initial 20 million doses, with the first batch of 1.5 million shots of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca likely to arrive this month.

Even though the government has said it will manage the campaign, mining companies are in the best position to vaccinate communities living near mines, Froneman said.

"We are absolutely ready and willing to do that and I would probably say the entire mining industry is ready and available as well," Froneman said.

-With assistance from Paul Richardson and Vernon Wessels.

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