The Minerals Council SA has plans to reduce the impact of coronavirus on workers and the industry. Picture: AFP/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
The Minerals Council SA has plans to reduce the impact of coronavirus on workers and the industry. Picture: AFP/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Mining companies have developed an action plan to soften the effect of coronavirus on the industry, both for mineworkers and managers who travel extensively.

The industry is “putting in place risk-mitigating measures to rapidly identify any cases of the virus, to ensure rapid isolation and contact tracing, and could — if necessary — mobilise large-scale medical facilities,” the Minerals Council SA said on Friday.

For employees, the industry is ensuring access to masks, sanitisers and testing kits as well as equipment such as temperature monitors. The industry is also advocating the use of proactive influenza vaccinations.

Its action plan further encompasses “understanding the potential effect on employees who may be immuno-compromised”, case definition and management, and isolation of employees should the need arise.

With the first confirmed case of coronavirus in SA announced on Thursday, the council says it stands ready to work with all relevant parts of the government to manage the spread of the virus, if required.

Expanding on its preparedness, the council said: “We recognise that the mining sector has special circumstances that could make it vulnerable to transmission of infectious diseases such as Covid-19. Employees congregate in areas of work, and travel in close proximity. As mining often involves physical activity, there could be a high degree of exposure to the virus simply through contact with people, machinery and equipment.

“Mining executives and officials who visit offshore operations are at risk of contracting the virus in other countries and bringing the infection into SA mines. On the other hand, the mining industry has extensive and existing systems in place to deal with communicable diseases, the monitoring of health and provision of health care.”

Commenting on the potential effect of the coronavirus outbreak on the industry, the council said that, while difficult to quantify, there could be a delay in exports of materials to significantly affected markets. “This would be a timing issue as it is assumed the ports and markets will re-open at some stage.”

Demand for some commodities could be affected if growth in significantly affected markets is constrained or delayed, it added. “On the other hand, the price of gold would likely be supported in the context of global uncertainty.”

Wider workplace contingency plans

Other sectors are also compiling workplace policies to deal with the coronavirus.

Driver training organisation MasterDrive said it has taken steps to protect the health of employees and the company’s clients.

“MasterDrive has already started the process of providing additional steps to strengthen the immune systems of our employees,” said MD Eugene Herbert. “We have also equipped our trainers with the necessary equipment, such as hand sanitisers, to reduce any potential transmission from one person in a vehicle or training room to another. Our aim is to protect the working environment of our trainers and provide peace of mind to both trainers and our customers.

“While we do not believe in panicking, we do want to prepare for ‘a less than ideal scenario’ should the virus spread. We urge other businesses to join us in this initiative. SA’s economy can ill-afford the impact that widespread quarantines could cause.”

Travel industry advice

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) called for calm after the announcement of the first coronavirus case in SA.

“We urge travelers to share only information that has been confirmed by an official source, such as the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), World Health Organisation (WHO) or Asata, as there is a lot of fake news doing the rounds,” said Otto de Vries, Asata CEO.

“For example, we have seen news circulating on social media and on WhatsApp about travel suppliers placing a blanket cancellation on their operations — which simply isn’t true. Any travelers who are concerned that their travel plans will be affected should contact their Asata-registered travel agent for informed travel advice.”

He said the reality is that it remains safe to travel to most destinations, provided travelers follow stringent hygiene guidelines as outlined by the WHO.

Destinations and travel suppliers are putting in place travel restrictions when these are necessary, said Asata. The WHO has also confirmed that there is no need to put travel restrictions in place, except for the epicentre of the outbreak, China’s Wuhan province.

Passengers arrive from Hong Kong at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
Passengers arrive from Hong Kong at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

“We believe that travelers should continue with their travel plans unless travel to their destination has been advised against by an official source, such as the NICD, the WHO and individual governments of affected destinations.

“These entities, along with global travel suppliers, have the safety of travelers top of mind. They would simply never allow travel to continue if there were any concern whatsoever over the health and well-being of travelers. Any disinclination to travel on the part of the traveler beyond this advice is the decision of that traveler and may be subject to cancellation and penalties.”

The association also advises travelers to purchase travel insurance before any international travel, and to ensure they know what their insurance covers.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has issued a comprehensive document detailing which destinations have put in place travel restrictions for citizens from certain countries. This can be accessed here.

Restrictions at hospitals and clinics

Netcare Group CEO Dr Richard Friedland, said all its facilities have implemented additional, precautionary safeguards to protect all patients, visitors, staff members, doctors, healthcare and other service providers.

This includes ensuring that every person entering its facilities clean their hands and verbal screenings for Covid-19 risk at the main points of entry as a first line of defence, with further screenings where indicated.

“Gazebos or tents are being erected at entrances to emergency departments and main hospital entrances, where our staff members will conduct the screening,” he said.

Ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection robots are being deployed to those hospitals that do not, as yet, have their own, “as soon as possible.” Netcare said, “These mobile robots have been proven to be extremely effective in identifying and destroying viruses, bacteria and fungal spores.”

Restricted visiting times in Netcare hospitals and the number of visitors allowed to visit a patient at a time are also in place. Daily screening of all of staff, including personnel of external service providers in all areas of the business, is also in effect.

Said Friedland, “This is a time for all South Africans to stand and work together in the knowledge that, despite the myriad of challenges we continue to face, this too we will overcome.”