The Minerals Council South Africa, the body responsible for representing some of the country’s largest miners, has hit back at allegations that the mining sector is the “epicentre” of Covid-19 in South Africa.

South African mining has come under scrutiny for its response to the pandemic, with 679 cases of Covid-19 reported among miners already, out of just over 50,000 across the country. The country’s mining sector only implemented strict mining safety rules in May, following pressure from trade unions, and moves such as a reopening of mines to operate at 50% capacity have raised concerns that the mining industry is not doing enough to protect workers.

Yet the Minerals Council argues that the mining industry has experienced no greater concentration of the pandemic than in other sectors, with rigorous screening and constant testing helping to minimise the spread of Covid-19 among miners.

“There are more than 230,000 miners currently back at work,” said the Minerals Council in a statement. “Each and every one of these mineworkers was screened on their first return to work post the hard lockdown, and every worker is screened for the virus prior to every shift he or she works.”

The council also argued that this narrative, that mines are a hotbed of Covid-19, has led to increased scrutiny on mining operations and resulted in more tests. More tests are likely to result in more confirmed cases, inflating the number of affected miners beyond the average that would be expected.

“As an epidemiological phenomenon, it is also no different from trends seen in other workplaces and in particular communities,” said the Minerals Council. “Clusters of infections occur in many different places. Further, mines are part of communities and communities are part of mines. It is likely that those clusters similarly exist in the communities surrounding those particular mining operations; the difference, of course, is that employees have been tested, surrounding community members have not been.

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“As it is, we would suggest that the intensive daily screening of mineworkers, and the thorough contact tracing and testing of contacts, means that the overall incidence is no higher than the population as a whole, and is more likely lower, especially given the intensive hygiene and social distancing measures required to be implemented at every workplace.”