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South African mining output plunges on COVID-19 lockdown

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s mining production fell sharply during March and April, when output was largely halted during a strict lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, official data showed on Thursday.

Mines in South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of platinum and chrome and a leading producer of gold and diamonds, were forced to shut temporarily when a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus began in late March.

South Africa’s total mining output fell 47.3% year on year in April and contracted 18.0% in March after rising in February and January, Statistics South Africa said.

Platinum group metal output fell 62.0% in April, and gold production was 59.6% lower.

Industry body the Minerals Council has estimated that mining production could fall by between 8% and 10% this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open-cast mines have been allowed to work at full capacity since May 1, though deep-level mines - where social distancing is more difficult - were restricted to operating at 50% until the government allowed full capacity to resume from June 1.

Trade unions have raised concerns about workers returning to roles in an environment where social distancing is difficult, with 821 cases confirmed in the industry so far, according to the latest Minerals Council data.

Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Alexander Winning and Jan Harvey