An urgent high-level meeting was convened in Bela-Bela yesterday, attended by Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, the Limpopo Government, led by Premier Chupu Mathabatha, and Impala Platinum Group CEO Nico Muller after 19 mineworkers at the Marula Mine tested positive for Covid-19, reports Review Online.
Limpopo government and mining companies could seemingly earlier not agree on the way forward, after the workers, of which two were from the Eastern Cape, tested positive for the virus. This comes after health MEC Phophi Ramathuba expressed that government and the mining companies were “failing to find each other” on the issue.
The mine, situated in the Sekhukhune region, has since closed as the infections are seen as a cluster outbreak. A total of 2,700 workers, all from Limpopo, reported for duty between 15 and 17 April and were tested for Covid-19. All were allowed to go underground.
The infected workers were part of 130 employees who reported for duty on 4 May and who were unable to explain their whereabouts after they returned to work. They were subsequently tested.
The health MEC said these workers, who were all asymptomatic, were now being housed at a facility under the care of government health officials. She insisted, however, that forceful quarantine was the only way to curb the spread of Covid-19.
“The mines say they will quarantine those who test positive after showing symptoms. But how many will test positive? We are saying from our side that everyone must be quarantined because you don’t know who is infected or not,” said Ramathuba.
During yesterday’s meeting, Mantashe elaborated on the way forward, saying there were rules and prescripts to be followed as issued by his department and that the mines had done well in this regard, except on the part of testing, which he said was “not visible”.
Implats had identified 19 positive Covid-19 cases during the week, all of them asymptomatic. Of these cases, 14 were identified as a result of proactive testing of employees returning to work. None of these employees had started work at the mine.
Of the remaining five, one case was identified as a primary contact and the remaining four were identified through contact tracing. Two of the active cases had recently returned from the Eastern Cape.
Significantly, 17 of the confirmed cases were residents of Limpopo, suggesting the prevalence of Covid-19 among local communities was far higher than the company’s initial estimates had indicated, Implats said.
The suspension of operations at the mine was a voluntary precautionary step and sanitisation and deep-cleaning has to be done to ensure the safety of all mineworkers, and screening and testing must be done on a continuous basis.
The premier said it was inevitable that the province would quarantine all workers who hailed from Covid-19 epicentres such as Gauteng, Western Cape, and Eastern Cape need to be quarantined, to which the mining houses agreed.
The number of Covid-19 infections in the province was expected to rise as more people returned to work at the province’s mines. By Sunday, Limpopo had recorded 77 positive cases of Covid-19.