SA platinum group metal miners bearing the brunt of COVID-19 fatalities

MORE than half of the 18 South African mineworkers known to have died owing to COVID-19  disease have been in the country’s platinum sector, said Fin24 citing data from the Minerals Council South Africa.

Nearly 3,000 workers have tested positively for the virus.

Gold mines, which have some of the world’s deepest shafts, have reported six deaths, while no deaths have occurred in the coal sector, said Fin24.

According to the Minerals Council, the North West platinum mining belt has 1,643 confirmed cases of COVID-19, followed by the gold sector, which is trailing at 914, and coal mines with 263 cases.

The number of deaths has been slowly rising, despite hygiene and safety guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of infections, including the daily screening of employees before they enter work spaces, said Fin24.

Infections among mineworkers reflected the conditions in communities where they live, said Fin24 citing David Rees, Emeritus Professor of Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of the Witwatersrand. More infections should be expected in the coming months, he added.

“What is happening in the mines is to be expected. It is not extraordinary, given that infections in the country are currently on the rise,” said Rees.

Companies are also yet to recall several workers from neighbouring countries who left South Africa ahead of the hard lockdown.

The Minerals Council said on June 25 that the return to work of some 9,500 foreign mineworkers was being held up by a shortage of immigration staff at the country’s borders as well as delays in getting approval from Natjoints, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.

Tebello Chabana, the council’s senior executive of public affairs and transformation, said none of foreign mineworkers were back “… so this is a work in progress”.