(Bloomberg) — Platinum and gold mines in South Africa, which together make up the world’s biggest precious metals industry, are gearing up to try and minimize a local outbreak of the coronavirus that could disrupt operations where hundreds of thousands of people work in close proximity.
Companies including Anglo American Platinum Ltd. and Sibanye Stillwater Ltd. are preparing a range of measures, from checking the temperature of workers before they enter narrow elevators to descend up to 2.4 miles underground to encouraging employees to find out their HIV status. They’re also distributing flu shots and changing the way statutory medical examinations are done.
The platinum group metals industry employs about 164,000 people in South Africa. The gold industry, even though it’s in decline, has 95,000 workers. Together they generate about 200 billion rand ($12 billion) in sales annually and the metals are among the country’s biggest exports.
“We are definitely quite vulnerable because the virus is easily transmitted in areas where people congregate,” said Thuthula Balfour, head of health for the Minerals Council South Africa, which represents most mining companies operating in South Africa. “When our workers go down into underground mines, they are in very close contact.”
The depth of the mines makes their operating conditions unique and particularly labor-intensive. Underground, miners are exposed to high temperatures and humidity, and when they return to the surface some live in cramped hostels.
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