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Namibia: Rössing, Husab ready for coronavirus

BOTH Chinese-owned uranium mines in Erongo, China National Nuclear Corporation’s Rössing Uranium and Swakop Uranium’s Husab mine, have put up measures to ensure the coronavirus does not affect the health of their workers.

Frieda Abrahams of Swakop Uranium told The Namibian on Monday that the company has employees and travellers from China.

“As the virus outbreak grows, we are also increasing our awareness of travellers from other declared high-risk areas. In addition to the measures already taken by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the WHO, Swakop Uranium has also implemented additional monitoring and control measures on-site,” Abraham said, referring to the mining company’s coronavirus management plan, which was implemented last week.

Employees were briefed on the management plan actions last Thursday.

The plan includes data capturing and monitoring of all employees and site contractors, who have travelled from China since 15 January 2020.

“For travellers, who have recently returned to Namibia, they are required to remain at home for a period of seven days and only return [to work] after clearance by our doctors, who are our advisors in the management plan,” she said.

All visitors to the mine near Arandis, or its head office at Swakopmund, would also be screened on arrival at security for temperature and are required to complete a self-health assessment form.

She said any outbreak of the virus would have an adverse effect on the mine’s operations, but the health and safety of workers are a top priority. Abrahams said Swakop Uranium has also been in close consultation with officials in the Ministry of Health and Social Services to align its management plan with that of the ministry.

“However, it is worth noting that in any event of a suspected case, the matter is immediately escalated to a public health issue, which must only be handled by the Ministry of Health and Social Services,” she said.

Managing director of Rössing Uranium Johan Coetzee said Rössing Uranium has four people seconded from the mother company China National Uranium Corporation (CNUC) (onsite, none of whom have visited China in the last three months).

“The health and well-being of Rössing Uranium’s employees is a key focus area in our drive towards zero harm for all. Our occupational health, hygiene and wellness programmes are aimed at preventing ill health, but also promoting good health and well-being. We identify and quantify health hazards to enable us to minimise exposure and prevent injury and illness that may otherwise develop,” he said.

Coetzee said the mine would adhere to the guidelines on the prevention of the coronavirus Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services announced on 22 January 2020.

“Currently, we do not foresee any material impact on the business of Rössing Uranium. All visits from CNNC (China National Nuclear Corporation)/CNUC China have been postponed until the situation has been resolved,” he said. Coetzee said following the announcement by the health ministry about the coronavirus and advice to adhere to specific measures, as part of prevention, the mine is closely monitoring the situation, and issued written and verbal communications to all employees and contractors in line with that issued by the ministry. This communication contains guidelines on how to protect themselves and others from contracting the coronavirus.

In addition, Rössing Uranium is providing surgical paper masks, especially where it is not possible to maintain a safe distance from someone while experiencing symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, for example, when travelling in buses or together in vehicles.

He said CNUC has also sent a contingent of its own doctors in China to the affected areas to assist in the outbreak. The Namibian also asked Namport the same questions, but to date has only responded that it has implemented the measures communicated by the health ministry.

Last week, China temporarily restricted the movement of its nationals in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, while Namibia upped its surveillance measures, the Chinese ambassador to Namibia Zhang Yiming announced during a media briefing in Windhoek.

By the time this article was written yesterday morning, nearly 500 people had died from coronavirus infection. Health authorities have confirmed nearly 25 000 cases of the viral infection.

Namibia, to date, has no confirmed cases, although a woman in Swakopmund was quarantined for an infection whose symptoms could be possibly linked to the coronavirus. She travelled to Sydney, Australia, and entered Namibia through the Hosea Kutako International Airport, where she was screened and cleared.

The patient stayed in Khomasdal in Windhoek and travelled to Swakopmund last Thursday.

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