LETŠENG Diamonds chief executive officer Kelebone Leisanyane says the mine is not planning to suspend operations despite recording 80 suspected cases of Covid-19 among its employees.
Mr Leisanyane this week told the Lesotho Times that the company had screened 1 504 employees and 80 of them were suspected to be Covid-19 positive. He said they were now awaiting confirmation of the test results from the Ministry of Health.
Out of the 80 suspected cases, 64 have since recovered while the other 12 are either at the Berea isolation hospital for Covid-19 or self-isolating at home. He said they had so far recorded two suspected Covid-19 related deaths.
Lesotho had so far recorded 726 Covid-19 infections and 21 deaths.
Letšeng Diamonds has set up a Covid-19 screening facility as one of its control measures against the deadly virus at the mine site in Mokhotlong.
However, the test results from the facility are regarded only as suspected cases because the facility is not accredited by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The tests must be verified by the Ministry of Health’s testing facilities.
“After the government allowed mining operations to resume, Letšeng decided to set up a Covid-19 screening facility as a Covid-19 control measure along with the other standard Covid-19 health safety protocols,” Mr Leisanyane said.
“So far, we have screened 1 504 employees. Out of these, we have recorded 80 Covid-19 suspects and 64 of them have since recovered from their symptoms.”
He said the Ministry of Health has to date tested and confirmed nine cases from Letšeng mine.
“Our facility is working at a faster pace than the national testing facility, so some of the test results from the government come back so late that by that time, our employees would have recovered.”
He said had they not set up their Covid-19 screening facility as they did, the mine would have likely shut down due to high Covid-19 infections in its workplace.
“If we had waited for the government to test our employees and not isolated the suspected workers timely, we would have probably ended up with a full-blown crisis that would force us to suspend operations at the mine.”
He says the mine has no prospects of closing given the recovery situation.
“Letšeng Mine remains one of the safest places of work given the safety measures that we have put in place against Covid-19. We are not considering suspending operations under the current circumstances, but we will monitor how the situation progress going forward.”
He said the infection rate at the mine was a microcosm of the country’s situation, and there is an urgent need for the country to increase its testing capacity to control further spread of the virus.
“We must be able to be able to test on demand so that we can take appropriate measures like isolation and seeking medical attention in order to contain the spread of the virus.”
Mr Leisanyane said the mine’s operations have been negatively affected by the global pandemic.
“We are on normal production at the moment. We feel the impact of Covid-19 pandemic when it comes to maintenance of our high technology machinery as we are unable to fly in the specialists needed for specialised services due to international travel restrictions.”
The mine has put in place measures that include wearing face masks, sanitising, temperature screening and registering and interviewing workers on arrival to identify and prioritise those with higher risk of infection.
He said half of the mine staff were on site while others have moved to their head office in Maseru to ensure the observation of social distancing protocols.