Mining industry prepares for R300m Covid-19 vaccine rollout effort
Tanisha Heiberg and Helen Reid
Johannesburg - South Africa's mining industry estimates it will cost around R300 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.
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 R300 million.
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 R20 billion and R24 billion to vaccinate around 40 million people out of its population of 59 million.
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 R1 million 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 February 1 for healthcare workers.