AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE: AU) has temporarily closed its Mponeng mine in South Africa after 196 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
The company has conducted 651 tests since the first COVID-19 case was detected at the mine on May 21, with the “vast majority” of those tested asymptomatic, the company reported.
The cases were discovered as part of a screening, contact tracing and testing program at the site, with anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms during the screening process referred to a medical practitioner for assessment and testing, where clinically required, the company said.
In line with national health protocols, all positive cases will be isolated, with the company providing onsite facilities at Mponeng for those who may need them.
Mponeng, the world’s deepest gold mine, is located in the West Wits mining district on the border between the Gauteng and North West provinces, 76 km southwest of Johannesburg.
In February, the company agreed to sell the mine to Harmony Gold (NASDAQ: HMY) in a deal worth US$300 million to focus on more profitable mines in Ghana, Australia and the Americas. The deal is expected to close later this year.
The gold miner voluntarily closed the mine to allow for contact tracing and sanitization of the site and is utilising the company’s existing electronic tracking system (as a safety tool to locate missing miners underground) to find primary or close contacts.
The mine was already operating at 50% of production capacity since operations resumed in April after South Africa suspended mining operations as part of a national lockdown in March to prevent the spread of the virus.
In addition to AngloGold, Impala Platinum was also forced to close its Marula platinum operation, about 360 km northwest of Johannesburg in Limpopo province, after a cluster of 19 positive COVID-19 cases were detected.
Of these cases, 14 were detected during proactive testing of employers returning to work, with one of the remaining five identified as a primary contact, and the other four subsequently discovered through contact tracing.
According to Impala, all the employees were asymptomatic, and none had started work at the mine.
Harmony also confirmed two employees from a contractor at its Kalgold mine have also tested positive for COVID-19. The open-pit gold mine is located in the North West province, around 55km southwest of Mahikeng and 340 km west of Johannesburg.
AngloGold is currently working with the South African government and other stakeholders to combat the spread of the virus by making two hospitals in the health departments in Gauteng and North West available for public use and is providing sanitizer to state hospitals.
The company has also set-up handwashing stations in high traffic areas in Gauteng, distributed care parcels to vulnerable members of the local communities, procured beds in intensive care units and has contributed around R20 million (US$1.1 million) to the South African Solidarity Response Fund.
The fund is helping to support the national response to combat the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.