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In early February 2020 the Minerals Council South Africa provided members with material on mitigation measures against coronavirus (COVID-19). At the time, there were no cases of the virus in South Africa. Last week the Department of Health confirmed the first case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in South Africa. The first cases of the virus were reported in Wuhan, China at the end of December 2019. Since then, the virus has spread globally infecting close to 100 000 people.

In a recent statement, the Council expressed plans to monitor the situation globally and nationally; to engage and align fully with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), planning for businesses and occupational health settings; and to develop plans to reduce and mitigate its impact.

Reports suggest that a 38-year-old man from KwaZulu-Natal showed symptoms of the virus and consulted a doctor after arriving from Italy at the beginning of March. Italy is one of the hardest hit countries with the third highest number of reported cases in the world after China and the Republic of Korea.

Planning for and mitigating the impact on the mining sector

The potential impact on the industry is difficult to quantify. One impact would be the delay in exports of materials to significantly-affected markets. This would be a timing issue as it is assumed that the ports and markets will reopen at some stage. Demand for some commodities could be affected if growth in significantly-affected markets is constrained or delayed. On the other hand, the price of gold would likely be supported in the context of global uncertainty. From an internal perspective, the industry is putting in place risk-mitigating measures to rapidly identify any cases of the virus, to ensure rapid isolation and contact tracing, and could – if it was necessary – mobilise large-scale medical facilities.

“We recognise that the mining sector has special circumstances that could make it vulnerable to transmission of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Employees congregate in areas of work, and travel in close proximity,” the statement read. As mining often involves physical activity, there could be a high degree of exposure to the virus simply through contact with people, machinery and equipment. Mining executives and officials who visit offshore operations are at risk of contracting the virus in other countries and bringing the infection into South African mines.

On the other hand, the mining industry has extensive and existing systems in place to deal with communicable diseases, the monitoring of health and provision of healthcare. The Minerals Council made a commitment to work with all relevant parts of government to manage the spread of the virus.

The Minerals Council has adopted a nine-point action plan that involves the following:

  • Employee education and health promotion
  • Health worker readiness
  • Ensuring access to consumables (masks, sanitisers, testing kits) and hardware (such as temperature monitors
  • Proactive influenza vaccination, which the industry undertakes and promotes every year
  • Understanding the potential impact on employees who may be immuno-compromised
  • Case definition and management
  • Isolation of employees should the need arise
  • Travel advice
  • Reporting and communication

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