Ramping up the testing of mineworkers is the only way to track and trace the spread of the coronavirus in the industry after 384 miners tested positive, according to government and an independent analyst.
During an update on the sector's interventions to combat the spread of Covid-19 on Friday, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said the mining industry must prioritise the health and safety of mineworkers and others who might be directly affected by the operations at mines.
"The more we test, the more we become aware of the extent of the problem and the location thereof.
"Prior to ramping up, all mining operations are required to prepare and implement a mandatory code of practice for the mitigation and management of Covid-19.
"Failure to do so will be regarded as a criminal offence and a breach of the Mine Health and Safety Act," said Mantashe.
Political analyst Daniel Silke also said that unless the department increased the testing of miners, it would be impossible to track the spread of the virus.
"I understand that there is a lot of learning we are doing as we move along because this is uncharted waters, but we need to find a way to react to the hotspots and prioritise those areas," he said.
He said that if the spread of the virus was not dealt with on a case-by-case, mine-by-mine, factory-by-factory basis, it would be impossible to contain its spread, which could put thousands of lives at risk.
According to the Minerals Council South Africa, in 2018 the mining sector employed 456,000 workers. So far, the departed has tested 46,000, according to the latest figures from the minister.
Minerals Council president Mxolisi Mgojo warned that while it was necessary to focus on the battle against Covid-19, the sector should not lose focus on the occupational health and safety challenges.
He said the consequences of Covid-19 and the ratings agency downgrades had made economic restructuring even more urgent as the country faced a deep recession, with reduced business activity and employment.
"More than ever, these times demand cooperation, understanding and a united effort to rescue our industry, our economy and our population's overall health and welfare from the deepest crisis we and our world have seen.
"We commit to doing our part in every sphere," said Mgojo.
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