The Minerals Council says 85 miners have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) and there has been one death from the disease caused by the virus. The council briefed the media regarding safety and health issues in the sector.

The mining industry is currently facing intense scrutiny of its health and safety measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Dr Thuthula Balfour, head of health at the council, says infections have yet to increase in the mining sector, but for now, the industry is doing all it can to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Balfour says they have developed a real-time dashboard on COVID-19 on their website. The comprehensive system shows how many people are screened and how many people are tested in the industry.

“As our dashboard has indicated, we have tested about 3 035 employees. In the industry, we have about 4 050 employees. So, it’s not far off the total number of the number of people tested in the whole country,” says Balfour.

The Council has reported its first death from COVID-19:

James Wellsted, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Sibanye Gold, says there has also been an increase in employees using the COVID-19 self-screening app.

“The last time I heard, we have about 48 000 or close to 50% of employees that had signed up and registered on it. I am not sure how many have self-screened, but that was the initial process or requirements of loading that app. It’s not the only tool, obviously, we have various levels of screening and this is just an additional tool that we are using to identify high-risk and employees who might have been exposed to risk.”

The council says there is no need for large scale closures of mines as the industry is applying 100% safety measures as advised by the Department Of Mineral Resources.

Balfour says most of the infections have been detected before miners enter their places of work.

A number of mining companies have also been seeking to boost their testing capacities.

“The reported incidents of COVID-19 are currently significantly lower than in the population as a whole. And this is despite mining employees being the most intensely screened people in South Africa compared to any other group and compared to health workers. So, every miner is screened everyday upon arrival at work, including the sanitising, the social distancing and we think those are being adequately being implemented.”

Tebello Chabana, Senior Executive of Public Affairs and Transformation at the Minerals Council, says the industry is at the forefront of dealing with safety issues. It employs 450 000 people directly and many more indirectly, and so this is a vital reason why it should remain open.

“Current data suggests miners are no less safe from COVID-19 for mineworkers than if they were to be spending time in their communities; the contrary seems to be the case. There will be circumstances where the individual will decide particular operations or sector operations need to be closed temporarily as a result of the risk assessment, but there is no basis for widespread closures. The imperative remains to reopening of the economy of the country as it applies to mining as anywhere else.”

This week, the Department of Mineral Resources gazetted COVID-19 guidelines for the sector.

Mining companies say they can screen every worker everyday, but cannot test every worker on a daily basis.

Companies say they will also be looking into random screening depending on available resources. The industry has 2 000 beds available for quarantine. This is for miners who are expected to come from across the borders and different provinces, when restriction levels are reduced.

In the video below, Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha meets with mining executives in the province to discuss the fight against COVID-19 in the sector: