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South Africa's mining industry prepares for $20 million COVID-19 vaccine rollout effort

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s mining industry estimates it will cost around 300 million rand ($20 million) to help the government roll out COVID-19 vaccines to mineworkers and community members as the country battles a surge in infections, the industry body told Reuters on Thursday.

Mine workers wearing face masks arrive ahead of their shift, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, at a mine of Sibanye-Stillwater company in Carletonville, South Africa, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo/File Photo

The Minerals Council, which represents mining firms, offered its financial and logistical assistance after the government called on the private sector to help with the rollout of vaccines, the first of which are set to arrive on Monday.

Mining is a key driver of the country’s economy, contributing 9% of GDP, and mineworkers are among the essential workers South Africa plans to inoculate in the second phase of its vaccination plan after healthcare workers.

Dr. Thuthula Balfour, head of health at Minerals Council South Africa said the cost of the vaccine programme to the industry could be around 300 million rand.

South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent, at more than 1.4 million cases and over 42,000 deaths to date.

Balfour said the mining industry has the capacity to carry out around 60,000 vaccinations per day, with scope to increase that to 80,000 vaccinations per day.

At that rate, the industry would vaccinate its 450,000 workforce within eight days, Reuters calculated. Mining companies also have the capacity to vaccinate around 2.25 million people in the often remote communities around mines, Balfour said.

The National Treasury on Wednesday said it could cost South Africa between 20 billion and 24 billion rand to vaccinate around 40 million people out of its population of 59 million.

PRIORITY SECTOR

A leading producer of platinum, palladium, chrome and gold, South Africa has a labour-intensive mining industry with thousands of miners working in confined spaces deep underground, posing a higher risk of transmission.

Mining companies say their decades of experience combating tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS make them well placed to support the COVID-19 response, and many say they can help pay for workers to be vaccinated.

“If you look at the cost of vaccination compared to the cost of running if people are not vaccinated, it’s a no-brainer really,” said Gus Simbanegavi, CEO of junior diamond miner BlueRock Diamonds.

Vaccinating his 200 workers would cost around 1 million rand in total, Simbanegavi said - including procurement, transportation, and storage of the vaccines - but that cost could come down if the company clubs together with nearby mines on logistics.

Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater also indicated it would offer financial support and could carry out 18,000 vaccinations a day using its 45 health and medical facilities.

South Africa is set to receive one million doses of AstraZeneca shots from the Serum Institute of India (SII) on Feb. 1 for its healthcare workers.

($1 = 15.0974 rand)

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg and Helen Reid; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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