South Africa’s mining giant suspends major operation amid pandemic

FILE PHOTO: A mine shaft is seen at the Tumela Mine , an Anglo American open pit mine in Thabazimbi, South Africa, June 9,2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A mine shaft is seen at the Tumela Mine , an Anglo American open pit mine in Thabazimbi, South Africa, June 9,2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

South Africa’s mining giant Impala Platinum (Implats) has suspended one of its platinum mines due to “a cluster of positive COVID-19 cases” among its workers, the company said Saturday.

In a statement, Implats said it has identified 19 positive cases, all asymptomatic, over the past week at the Marula Mine in Limpopo Province.

Of the 19 cases, 14 were identified following proactive testing of employees returning to work, one was detected as a primary contact and the other four through contact tracing, it said.

The infections included a local health provider and four mine-employed health providers working at the mine’s clinic, it said.

“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,” it said.

All the 19 patients have been immediately isolated at the mine’s isolation site, government designated facilities or at home as per government protocols, it added.

“We are well prepared to deal with employees that have tested positive and will be deploying all the resources available to us to protect the lives and livelihoods of our people and host communities,” it said.

South Africa eased the level-five national lockdown, imposed on March 27, to level four on May 1, allowing mines to run at 50-percent capacity.

Trade unions have voiced concern over the harsh mining environment that might put miners at risk of being infected with COVID-19.

As of Saturday, the country has recorded a total of 14,355 confirmed cases, with 261 deaths.