The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents mining operators in the country, has denied claims the sector is fast becoming the epicentre of Covid-19. The mining industry, which employs nearly a half a million people has come under increased scrutiny over its response to the virus.
Under level three of lockdown regulations, the sector is currently operating at 50% capacity, with around 230 000 workers from all over the country and parts of Southern Africa back at work. There is a fear that a return to work of so many people poses a greater risk of infection amongst miners, however the Minerals Council poured cold water over those claims, “These assertions are not only inaccurate but serve to spread fear amongst mineworkers and the communities in which they reside or come from.”
The industry says it is taking all necessary precautions to avoid uncontrolled outbreaks in mines, “There are more than 230,000 miners currently back at work. Each and every one of these mineworkers was screened on their first return to work post the hard lockdown, and every worker is screened for the virus prior to every shift he or she works.”
Out of over 52 000 cases across the country, there are 679 reported cases of Covid-19 in the mining industry. While this may seem like a small figure, proportionally there are more positive cases of the virus in mining compared with the population as a whole. While this is a concern, the council argues there are more positive cases because there’s more testing being done in mining, “Clusters of infections occur in many different places” the council said. “Further, mines are part of communities and communities are part of mines. It is likely that those clusters similarly exist in the communities surrounding those particular mining operations; the difference, of course, is that employees have been tested, surrounding community members have not been.”
Last month the industry was ordered to implement mandatory measures aimed at mitigating and managing the spread of the virus following pressure from labour unions.