Assore chrome mine in South Africa suspended production this week after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the company said on Wednesday, highlighting the challenges mining companies face as they start operations again as lockdown eases.
The worker was screened last week as part of Dwarsrivier Chrome Mine’s return to work protocols and was tested after showing COVID-19 symptoms, an Assore spokesman said.
Operation at the mine, which generated 1.55 million tonnes of chrome ore in the last financial year, was suspended on Monday after the worker’s test positive to COVID-19 a day earlier.
The suspension was a precautionary measure, and the mine would “resume operations once management has successfully completed an audit,” the spokesman wrote in an email.
The employee had been in self-isolation for a week, and other employees who had been in close contact with him would remain in self-quarantine until their test results were known, he said.
The National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) criticized Assore on Tuesday for not telling the union about the case until Monday. The union has criticized mining’s resumption, stating that workers can’t maintain social distancing in mines.
Most mines in South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of chrome ore platinum, and manganese, temporarily closed when the government imposed a lockdown on March 27 to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The government said on April 16 that mines could operate at 50% capacity, although mines producing coal to fire power plants are allowed to work during the crisis. A phased reopening of other sectors of the economy began on May 1.