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World’s deepest mines to take weeks to open after lockdown

Nearly half a million miners will need to be screened for coronavirus before resuming work.
Residents wearing protective face masks queue to speak to a health worker during a health screening in Rustenburg, on April 7. Image: Bloomberg

When South Africa shut down its mining industry to contain the coronavirus, more than 450 000 workers were sent home in 24 hours. Getting them back will take much longer for the nation’s gold and platinum miners.

Ramping up production at the world’s deepest mines could take three to four weeks as thousands of returning employees are screened for Covid-19, according to Johan Theron, a spokesman for Impala Platinum. Workers will need to be checked for high temperatures, while social distancing and other measures are introduced to prevent the spread of the virus, he said.

“Its going to take time to get going again,” Theron said. “The queue is going to be 40 kilometres long.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the 21-day mine closure as part of a nationwide lockdown. Mineworkers are particularly vulnerable, toiling in cramped shafts more than two miles underground, before returning to overcrowded hostels and shanty towns. The situation is exacerbated by South Africa having the largest number of people with HIV in the world and widespread tuberculosis.

“Everybody in the industry is considering how to manage the situation around vulnerable workers,” said James Wellsted, a spokesman for Sibanye Stillwater, the No 1 platinum miner.

People infected with HIV, which damages immune systems and causes Aids, are more likely to die if they contract Covid-19, according to the assumptions of medical professionals. People with HIV make up a large proportion of the 300 000 South Africans with tuberculosis, a disease that diminishes lung capacity. In addition, there are gold miners with lungs shredded by silica shards.

Some mining companies plan to give vitamins and flu vaccines to HIV-positive workers and those with tuberculosis to boost their immunity.

Real risk

While vulnerable workers can be identified, the inability to test for Covid-19 will make it impossible to know who is infected, making it difficult to curb the spread of the virus. South Africa is two weeks into a national lockdown and has sealed off its borders in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1 700 people and claimed the lives of 13.

Harmony Gold Mining said the use of face masks and other protective equipment will be made compulsory in many parts of its operations, while surfaces will be sprayed with disinfectants and hand sanitisers made available. Implats will limit the numbers of workers entering the cages that are lowered to the operating shafts.

“Its very complex because the mines are big and deep and there are lots of people,” Theron said. “There is a real risk of people contracting the virus, which is the last thing anybody wants.”

Union demands

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a key labor union, has proposed working with mining companies and government officials to draw up a new code of practice for Covid-19, before production is restarted.

“We can simply not afford to let mineworkers die to due to a lacking and uncoordinated approach to this pandemic by the individual mines,” Amcu said Wednesday in a statement.

South Africa’s precious metals industry generates about $12 billion in sales annually and is one of the nation’s biggest exporters. While the country produces about 75% of the world’s platinum and 38% of palladium, its gold mines have become more costly and dangerous as they extend deeper underground.

Jobs threatened

Delays in reopening operations risk eroding the viability of marginal mines, adding to South Africa’s already high unemployment rate. While the lockdown exempted more mechanised mines, such as the open-cast iron ore and platinum pits run by Anglo American, it’s hurting deeper, labor-intensive operations. An extension of the shutdown could impact the ability of producers to pay wages, Theron said.

With some migrant workers returning to other provinces in South Africa, or other countries in the region, producers could also initially struggle with staffing, said Wellsted.

“The longer you don’t generate cash, the more difficult its going to be to get back to normal,” he said. “We need to ensure safety for all, but if we are unable to resume, everybody is going to be without jobs.”

© 2020 Bloomberg

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Please reopen asap! I pray for no infections!

If you have to pray, Dadape, you are doomed. Which we are.

Dadape, be positive! All will be well. The country will use the one third of Cyril’s salary for two months to get by!

Not going to be a problem

Why are the number of test being conducted not shown?
To only say show the number of people who are infected and have died is showing a very distorted figure.

At the beginning S.A. was doing over 7000 tests per day and that’s why the infection rate was over 200 per day, now they doing only a few hundred tests and it’s giving a reading of less than 100 per day.

Why will the government and or media not be honest with people ?

South Korea Will be the first country cleared of the Virus Why because they were honest with the people showing which areas the infection was reported in and at the same time they did not have to shut down their economy…

The mines are going into industry 4.0, here come the robots guys.

My apologies news24 is showing the number tests being done, right now it’s 63,766 and number of confirmed infections are at 1,845 meaning about 3% infection rate

PurgeCoin, no need to apologise. Nothing about this ‘pandemic’ makes sense. Let me add some conspiracy theory thoughts, just to spice things up a bit: Millions of people are dying daily due to very preventable reasons (in SA violent deaths far exceeds Corona deaths), but nothing is being done about it, or the myriad other things that require good, honest politicians plying their trade. Suddenly we have Corona and governments goes bonkers. Is there something they know about Corona that we don’t know, or are the measures for a completely different reason altogether? Now I know that governments could claim that what they are doing is to prevent the spread of the disease, but we have no way of proving that the measures taken are indeed avoiding the disaster governments are claiming will otherwise happen… especially considering that Corona just doesn’t seem that deadly. What I do know is that pre the ‘pandemic’, revolution was brewing worldwide, with Joe Soap unhappy, restive and spoiling for a fight. Now everybody is sitting at home, kept off the streets by overzealous state agents, protests having effectively being stopped. Of course one could argue that governments won’t stuff up the world economy to the extent that it will be, but I ask you this; what does governments (politicians) fear more than a ruined economy? Yes, people that rise up in numbers that just can’t be controlled? If that is what you want to prevent, then there is no cheaper or more effective way that declaring a ‘pandemic’, even if the ‘pandemic’ is nowhere close to a pandemic, measured against real pandemics, such as the ANC government. Ultimately what will happen is that people will indefinitely be kept under control, by draconian measures, their fear of the ‘pandemic’ and by enslaving them to the wave of debt that is to come. A last thought; we have come as far as we can with our current boom-bust economic system, which is failing on many levels. The moneylords need a new system that will lift constraints on them further, allowing more risk taking, ultimately to be paid by the taxpayer. You see, this is what happens when you are in lockdown, with nothing but time to think.

I think they’re still hiding the real stats

Problem 1 = they do not have the resources and test kits do test everyone.
Problem 2 = Some people infected will test negative only to be positive 4 days later after having infected 10 others.
Problem 3 is with up to 100 persons crammed into a elevator at one time you only need 1 positive to infect a LOT of others. !!!

But we cannot buy a beer or walk the dog – Utter stupidity !!!!!!!

Agreed.

And now we have another SASSA payment debacle looming as the payment will have to be done before the lockdown ends. That’s really very smart??

Not buying alcohol or cigarettes somehow compensate for that.

Can see a lot of thinking has gone into this.

Looks like the SASSA payment dates were changed a few days ago to the 4th and 5th of May.

Guess the decision to extend the lockdown was taken sometime ago then.

I am glad some sense is prevailing and mines will open. I hope that mines far from covid hot spots open. Also that social distancing is encouraged.

The swedish Covid model is the only different one. As a social experiment I hope they dont buckle to pressure to go into a lockdown.

End of comments.

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