Workers in the mining industry fear they won’t be protected from Omicron

Moyahabo Mabeba

After surviving the Covid-19 Delta variant in February, at a time when her health was deteriorating because of her HIV status, a Limpopo mother of three now fears for her life again.

The woman, who works in the mining industry in Sekhukhune, said the resurgence of the global pandemic could have dire consequences for her sector.

While the provincial department of health could not provide the exact Covid-19 figures in the sector, the province confirmed that it has recorded 122,406 positive cases, 117,977 recoveries, and 4,096 deaths.

Exxaro Mine, in Lephalale in the Waterberg district, recorded 57 new cases in four days, with 18 new cases recorded on 24 November alone.

Even though the department has dispatched a team of healthcare workers to mines to screen and test the workers, she said morale at the mines is diminishing as fear for the health and economic consequences of Omicron grows. 

The woman, who is from the village of Mmotong, northwest of Polokwane, said with the mining sector under siege, many are contemplating taking leave this festive season or even resigning.

“Our industry places us in grave danger with so many health hazards. And with the resurgence of this variant, we are as good as dead,” she said.

She has doubts about the measures authorities will put in place to protect her and her colleagues.

“We just don’t know how we should protect ourselves. While healthcare workers are trying their best to protect us, our sector is running out of options. We will wear the masks and sanitise, but is that enough?” she asked.

Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba said the department is warning the public about recent cluster outbreaks and the dangers of vaccine hesitancy.

“It is a worrying factor that the majority of those who tested positive and are showing symptoms are those who are not vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated are not displaying severe symptoms and are just isolating at home,” Ramathuba said.

His department has done all it can to make workers aware that the vaccine is available to them but it is up to them to go and get it, he added.

“This is despite our effort, and that of the mine, to offer all workers vaccines at their workplace. Our honeymoon will soon be over as the fourth wave is becoming another reality. We are equally worried that our people are behaving as if the virus has been wiped out.”