AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. has reported 164 cases of the novel coronavirus among its workers at a gold mine in South Africa, raising new questions about how to prevent the virus from spreading in deep underground mines.
The cases were discovered at Mponeng, the world’s deepest mine, where operations extend as far as four kilometres beneath the Earth’s surface.
In response, the company has temporarily closed the mine and begun tracing the contacts of those who tested positive, using an electronic tracking system. It says the “vast majority” of those who tested positive are showing no symptoms of illness.
The new outbreak is by far the largest number of cases detected at any South African mine so far. It has tripled the total number of cases in the country’s mining industry, which until Sunday had reported 85 cases.
South African union leaders, worried about the difficulty of physical distancing in underground mines, have called for the testing of all workers before they return to work. But the industry says this would not be feasible because of a shortage of test supplies.
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