Wednesday, January 26

South African Mines Join Efforts to Moderate Next Wave of Coronavirus


Outside Anglo American Platinum’s Tumela mine shaft, some 25 workers, many still in the overalls and helmets they wore on their shift, sit patiently waiting for their coronavirus shots as vervet monkeys scamper on the roofs of the containers. steel storage facilities nearby.

They then enter a room where their registration is verified in a government database, they are injected with the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE vaccine and offered counseling. Before leaving, they collect a free blanket, disinfectant and pain relievers to use in case of side effects.

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It is in places like these, a three-hour drive northwest of Johannesburg, that South African companies are playing a crucial role in helping the government counter the ravages of the pandemic in remote communities. Harnessing all of the country’s medical resources is seen as key in the race to immunize enough people to stop the outbreaks that, by some estimates, have killed nearly 240,000 South Africans.

The post-vaccination counseling area at Anglo Platinum’s Dishaba mine. Image: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg.

“The role of the private sector has been huge,” said Nicholas Crisp, who oversees the government’s national vaccination program. “Our interactions in this vaccination program with the mining companies have been fantastic. Now is the decisive moment and they are doing it. ”

At the national level, the vaccination program is stuttering, with an inoculation capacity that exceeds demand. The number of injections administered peaked at 272,674 on July 21, but fewer than 200,000 have been delivered daily since August 3.

The government’s plans to address the problem include making the vaccines available to people between the ages of 18 and 34 beginning Friday and increasing the communication campaign to address concerns. Including privately run sites, the country could fire 420,000 shots a day by the end of August.

Mine vaccination centers are among the best equipped to help. Many South African mines, due to their remote locations and years of dealing with HIV and tuberculosis epidemics among their workforce, have their own hospitals.

A laboratory at the Tumela hospital site processes the PCR tests. Image: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg.

Anglo Platinum’s Amandelbult operation, consisting of the shafts at the Tumela and Dishaba mines some 20 kilometers (12 miles) apart, has spent more than 25 million rand ($ 1.7 million) on modernizing its medical facilities since the start of the pandemic. The investment included the purchase of R250,000 freezers to store Pfizer vaccines at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

To date, the operation has vaccinated more than 7,000 of its approximately 18,000 workers and intends to extend the service to local communities when the government gives the go-ahead.

“The mines vaccinate employees and then their families and then the entire community,” said Stavros Nicolaou, head of the health work unit at Business for South Africa, an organization that works with the government on vaccines. “If you have a smaller mine that has 500 people, but the community has 10,000, the 500 will effectively vaccinate the other 9,500.”

The Minerals Council, which represents the majority of mining companies in South Africa, said Wednesday that its members have administered at least one dose of vaccine to 106,000 employees. Around 10 million doses have been administered nationally.

A miner receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Anglo Platinum’s Dishaba mine. Image: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg

Tumela medical staff wore blue T-shirts that read “Would you like to get vaccinated?” Many of those who were vaccinated there said they were excited about the vaccine and were thankful that it was given to them at their workplace.

“I’m vaccinated so we can be safe,” said Max Shiviti, a miner from Tumela. “I’m very happy”.

Mine doctor Philip du Preez said it was a walking advertisement for the efficacy of vaccines. He received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in February and caught Covid-19 in June, but turned it down.

It is in the self-interest of mining companies to help vaccinate workers. At times, the two Amandelbult shafts have had as many as 300 active Covid-19 boxes. Recently, one of his sick workers had to be airlifted to a hospital in Bloemfontein, 550 kilometers away, because it was the only place with a vacant intensive care unit bed.

The vaccination program at Amandelbult got off to a slow start as rumors of side effects and deaths spread on social media, but it gained momentum when miners watched their colleagues get vaccinated.

“There is a change, a positive one,” said Moloko Boke, a counselor at the Dishaba vaccine site, who says she hasn’t had to counsel anyone before getting the injection in a week.

© 2021 Bloomberg


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