South Africa’s mining companies will support the government in the rollout of covid-19 vaccines as the nation battles a surge in infections, the industry body said on Friday.
Mining companies say they are well placed to support the covid-19 response thanks to decades of experience combatting tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS among workers, including the creation of on-site treatment facilities.
The Minerals Council, which represents mining firms, said its members are developing plans to use the sector’s healthcare infrastructure and delivery capability to accelerate the vaccination programme, but did not provide further detail.
A leading producer of platinum, palladium, chrome and gold, South Africa has a labour-intensive mining industry with thousands of miners working in confined spaces deep underground, posing a higher risk of infections.
The government has called on the private sector, including miners, to help with the rollout of vaccines but has not yet outlined exactly how it should assist.
“While Government is primarily responsible for funding the vaccine rollout and is the single buyer, the industry can play a material role in accelerating the vaccination programme on mines and in mining communities,” said Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter.
Precious meals producer Sibanye-Stillwater said it could carry out 18,000 vaccinations a day using its 45 health and medical facilities.
“We could probably vaccinate our entire workforce of around 80,000 people in about a week,” said Sibanye spokesman James Wellsted, adding that talks were ongoing about extending vaccinations to the community.
President Cyril Ramaphosa this week said 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been secured as the country battles infections which reached a peak of more than 21,000 a day last week, taking total cases to nearly 1.3 million, the most on the African continent.
With around 233 covid-19 deaths in the mining industry, according to Minerals Council statistics, unions have called on mining firms to help pay for vaccines.
“They have been making huge profits, it’s time for them to buy vaccines for their employees,” said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu.
Higher precious metals prices, including a surge in gold and rhodium, have made miners flush with cash.
Sibanye said it was also willing to provide financial support for vaccinations but could not yet say how much.
In an indicative budget for the vaccines, South Africa’s government has said it might meet 70% of its vaccine needs with AstraZeneca’s shot, which is the cheapest at an estimated 54 Rand ($3.56) per dose.
At that price, inoculating all the country’s more than 470,000 mineworkers with the two-dose regimen from AstraZeneca would cost around 50.9 million rand ($3.36 million).
($1 = 15.1558 rand)
(By Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Helen Reid, David Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)