Impala Platinum’s Marula mine. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
Impala Platinum’s Marula mine. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

Impala Platinum (Implats) said on Saturday it will temporarily close its Marula mine after detecting 19 coronavirus cases among workers reporting back for duty at the Limpopo site.

“Implats has identified 19 positive cases during the week, all of them asymptomatic. Of these cases, 14 were identified as the result of proactive testing of employees returning to work. None of these employees had started work at the mine,” the company said.

It said the site will not reopen until the appropriate health measures have been put in place.

SA, the world’s largest platinum producer, is gradually restarting operations in its mining sector, which was shut down as part of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown now entering its eighth week.

Authorities have eased the restrictions to allow mines to operate at 50% capacity, but labour unions have since won a court case against the government, forcing it to impose stricter safety guidelines.

Impala said it is concerned that 17 of the cases were from employees living in nearby communities, while two had travelled from another province, suggesting “the prevalence of Covid-19 among local communities is far higher than the company’s initial estimates”.

As of Sunday, SA had reported more than 14,355 cases of the highly infectious respiratory disease, the most on the continent, with 261 deaths.

Most cases have been concentrated in Cape Town and in and around Johannesburg, but recent testing patterns have shown rising infection rates in poorer, rural provinces as the government expands its screening and testing programme.