South Africa’s mines are finding that pre-arranged hospital beds earmarked for mine workers afflicted with COVID-19 have already been allocated, as the country’s health system struggles with increased numbers. Business Day reports that so far, nearly 296,000 mine workers have returned to their jobs out of more than 420,000 when the industry is at full capacity.
With 28 fatalities out of 3,519 positive tests, the mining industry mortality rate is half the national rate of 1.6%, said Thuthula Balfour, head of health at the Minerals Council South Africa. But, the report says, he cautioned that the epidemic in the mining provinces of Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga is less mature on average than in a province such as the Western Cape, warning that the number of people testing positive and dying in the mining sector is likely to rise over time.
But for mining companies, a major concern is that plans they had made with nearby hospitals to book bed space for sick mine workers were all filled, with people in the community, leaving companies to compete with everyone else for high-level medical care.
Mining companies, which once had their own hospitals, have mostly sold these assets and have agreements with nearby state and private hospitals instead as they found ways to cut costs. As part of their early strategy to handle the pandemic, companies made arrangements with hospitals to secure future bed space.
Balfour expressed deep sadness at the loss of 28 colleagues to COVID-19 and stated that research was being conducted to understand what makes people particularly vulnerable to the pandemic and what can be done to prevent the deaths, reports Mining Weekly. “While the mortality rate in the mining industry is lower than the rest of the country, we recognise that we’re only seeing the initial impact of the pandemic in some regions and that it is likely that mining operations will be affected similarly to the regions in which we operate.
Taking the need for research into consideration, the CEO Zero Harm Forum had reallocated research funding to focus on three COVID-19 related areas very early on in the process. The three research projects currently underway relate to understanding the nature of COVID-19, changing behaviours to stop the spread of the virus and a geographic information mapping system to enhance decision-making.
Collaboration was taking place with the Aurum Institute to conduct an analysis of the cases and deaths suffered until 20 June. This analysis would improve and accelerate learnings in support of the Minerals Council’s COVID-19 response and surveillance.
The report says the case files of up to 2,000 individuals who had tested positive across the mining industry would be reviewed to characterise the cases and determine similarities between different cases and possible areas of transmission and high risk.
The University of South Africa had also been commissioned to conduct a study into the effectiveness of all the control measures in place, whether these were achieving the intended objectives and what improvements were required.
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