Thirteen mineworkers have now succumbed to the coronavirus, Minerals Council South Africa public affairs and transformation senior executive Tebello Chabana said last week.

Of the 13 who have died, seven were employed in platinum mining in the North West, which has the most mining cases, at 1 413, and the most mining deaths, at seven.

Four of the others who have died were gold mineworkers, in Gauteng, the province with the second-highest number of cases, at 666, and also the second-highest number of deaths, at four.

Of the two mineworkers who have died while working in other unstated commodities, one was from Limpopo and the other from Mpumalanga, Chabana said.

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Two of those who have died had not returned at all since the lockdown began.

A total of 287 297 employees have returned to work, representing 68% of the total workforce of 425 079 employees.

“However . . . foreign mineworkers have actually not returned as yet. We’re expecting . . . the first returnees to be from Mozambique.

“There was a meeting yesterday, I believe, between the South African government, the Mozambique government and the Minerals Council to try to get some movement regarding the workers . . . there’s no movement as yet, but we’ll advise you . . . probably during . . . the next media briefing on any movement,” Chabana said.

Minerals Council South Africa environment, health and legacies senior executive Nikisi Lesufi, who has provided updates on the prospects of foreign mineworkers returning from Mozambique and Lesotho, was not present at the media update.

DAILY SCREENING

All mine employees are screened daily before going on shift and 19 655 tests have been carried out thus far. Currently, 2 573 positive cases have been recorded, and 1 022 mineworkers have recovered from the virus to date.

The number of deaths per positive case in the mining industry is 0.51%, which is considerably lower than the national average of 1.73% for South Africa, and 4.8% worldwide.

“We’re trying to understand and access the reasons for these deaths, but it’s difficult to do so with the sample size at this stage. It certainly appears, though, as if comorbidities do play a significant role,” said Chabana.

In medicine, comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional conditions often co-occurring with a primary condition. An example of mineworker comorbidity is silicosis, with comorbidity describing the effect of all other conditions an individual patient might have, other than the primary condition of interest, and can also be physiological or psychological.

There is a very high degree of asymptomatic cases, with 74% of all positive cases being asymptomatic and, in some of the clusters where a large number of tests have been undertaken, the asymptomatic rate has risen to as high as 90%, Chabana said.

Most of those who are asymptomatic would not have been identified through screening and their detection is the result of the high testing rates per population in the mining industry of 4.62%, which is much higher than the 2.81% for South Africa and the global figure of 3.14%.