Miners, unions team up to fight COVID-19 in South Africa

The Minerals Council South Africa and unions have “committed to collaborate” to address COVID-19, as the number of mineworker deaths due to the virus has shot up almost 50% in a month.

Staff reporter

The council and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union's collaboration marks a shift from last year when the pair were adversaries in a legal battle, which the union won to ensure binding regulations to protect mineworkers from the pandemic.

The council had committed last month to play an active role in the government's vaccine roll-out as a more contagious variant of the virus started sweeping through the country.

However South Africa's health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday the country would pause the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, after trial data showed it offered limited protection against mild and moderate disease caused by the variant.

The mining sector's virus death toll now stands at 307, according to the council's Friday update, up from 211 on January 8

It said last week it had met the AMCU, the National Union of Mineworkers, Solidarity and UASA on January 28 to discuss the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, and to combat its impact on the mining industry, its employees and mining communities.

"All parties have to date been actively involved in managing the adverse impacts of COVID-19 in numerous ways and have committed to collaborate to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are secured and efficiently rolled out to employees and host communities where possible, and to address misinformation to ensure voluntary and informed decision-making and participation to enable as many people as possible … will take up the opportunity to be vaccinated," the council said.

"Their joint message is: it is only through collaboration that we as an industry and as a nation will succeed in overcoming the pandemic to save lives and livelihoods."

The council recently estimated production was down 10-12% in 2020 due to the pandemic and logistical shortcomings but mining GDP was only down 4% thanks to the rise in commodity prices. 

It said of the industry's 472,015 employees, 382,928 had been screened, 107,197 tested and 28,198 positive cases recorded.

The sector had 1,198 active cases as of Friday.

South Africa has reported more than 1.47 million cases and 46,290 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University today.

South Africa's health department said there were 2,435 new cases on Sunday, down from the circa 15,000 new daily cases reported a month ago.

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