South African Miners Urge Government to Scale Up Vaccination

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Sibanye Stillwater Ltd., one of South Africa’s largest precious-metals producers, offered to help the government’s vaccination campaign by inoculating hundreds of thousands of mineworkers and people living in communities near its operations.

The company that employs about 84,000 workers has enough capacity at its 45 health and medical facilities to vaccinate 18,000 people a day, Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman said in an interview Thursday. The government should use Sibanye, as well as facilities at other mining companies, for its campaign because the industry has expertise in screening for and treating tuberculosis and HIV, he said.

“We see vaccination as a major issue in re-establishing economic stability,” Froneman said. “As an industry we probably have more capacity than the national health service and I think it’s really important that government takes note of that.”

South Africa’s mining industry, which employs more than 450,000 people, immediately prepared a range of measures last year to curb the outbreak, from checking the temperature of workers to distributing flu shots and contact-tracing. Mines have their own health facilities because of the large concentration of workers in often remote locations.

Even though the government has said it will manage the campaign, mining companies are in the best position to vaccinate communities living near mines, Froneman said.

The government has been criticized by South African scientists for the slow pace of its vaccine procurement. Details about discussions with vaccine manufacturers were only released this month, and a charity had to pay the deposit for South Africa to join the Covax program. Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country will get an initial 20 million doses, with the first batch of 1.5 million shots of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc likely to arrive this month.

The Minerals Council of South Africa, the industry lobby group for large producers, urged the government on Friday to speed up negotiations with vaccine suppliers and said it wants to support the vaccination campaign together with the country’s business associations.

“We need government to focus on securing the vaccines and we will work collectively -- together with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, BUSA and B4SA and mining unions -- to urgently roll out the vaccination program,” Chief Executive Officer Roger Baxter said in the statement. “This is a critical national effort.”

Africa’s most-industrialized economy has detected a more infectious strain of the virus, known as 501.V2. It has recorded almost 1.3 million cases so far and added more than 18,500 infections on Thursday.

Anglo American Plc, which operates major health facilities around its mining operations, said it’s also prepared to back the government campaign.

“Should an opportunity arise for us to provide support in the Covid-19 vaccine roll out in the countries where we operate, then we will do everything we can to help,” said Jana Marais, a spokeswoman for local unit Anglo American Platinum Ltd.

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