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Accuracy of tests questioned

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Mining company issued a statement this week indicating that none of its workers at Lomoteng Mine in the Northern Cape were positive for Covid-19, despite earlier tests that indicated that 42 mineworkers had tested positive.

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QUESTIONS have been raised regarding the accuracy of Covid-19 tests in the Northern Cape after 42 mineworkers in Postmasburg, who initially tested positive, turned out not to have the virus.

The mining company, Lidino Trading 514 (Pty) Ltd, issued a statement this week indicating that none of its workers at Lomoteng Mine, based in Tsantsabane Local Municipality, were positive for Covid-19, despite earlier tests that indicated that 42 mineworkers had tested positive, resulting in the mine shutting down.

The mine said in a press statement issued this week that as there were positive cases in the surrounding areas and neighbouring mines, the company had contacted a laboratory in Kimberley to conduct tests on its whole workforce.

A total of 215 tests were conducted and 173 were negative and 42 were suspected positive.

“The lab reported that 42 of our employees had tested Covid-19 positive, although all of them were asymptomatic,” the mine manager, Herdy van Rensburg, said.

He added that this had raised concerns about the safety of the employees as well as the accuracy of the tests.

“The employees who tested positive were classified as suspected positive and we immediately decided to stop the whole mining operation and informed all employees to stay at home,” said Van Rensburg.

He added that all stakeholders were notified, including the affected employees and their immediate family, mine management, mine employees and contractors, the head of the Department of Health in Upington, and the Principal Inspector of Mines at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) in Kimberley.

“According to our Covid-19 positive employee management guideline, all suspected positive employees were declared temporarily unfit for work.”

Van Rensburg stated that as the employees were asymptomatic they were not hospitalised but placed under “self-isolation”.

The employees’ conditions were assessed daily by the occupational medical practitioner (OMP) for any development of symptoms or deterioration to determine if they required hospitalisation.

Van Rensburg stated that the Department of Health sent a mobile testing station to the mine with a repeat test, which was conducted nasally, to verify the previous testing results, which were conducted orally by Lancet. “A total of 52 people were tested, including the 42 suspected positives as well as 10 people who had originally tested negative.

“Half of the samples were sent to Lancet and the other half went to the NICD (National Institute For Communicable Diseases) while four were also sent to Pathcare to verify the results of the other two laboratories.”

Van Rensburg stated that the results of all these tests had come back as negative.

“Thus we have no employees who tested positive for Covid-19.”

He added that on Tuesday an environmental specialist from the Department of Health visited the mine and conducted a risk assessment on the mine’s compliance to government protocols. “He was very impressed with what we have in place and said he would generate a report on his findings.”

The false-positive cases have, however, not yet been removed from the national Covid-19 statistics and the latest figures indicate that the Tsantsabane municipal area has 50 positive cases.

According to the figures from the Department of Health, the number of Covid-19 positive cases in the Tsantsabane municipal area increased from four to 10 cases on June 14. The next day, this figure jumped to 49 cases. On June 18, one more case was reported, making it 50.

The mine urged the community and its workers to remain calm and alert, and to monitor their temperature and any symptoms related to the virus on a daily basis in order to report and make necessary arrangements.

The Tsantsabane community has been gripped by panic after the news spread that more than 40 workers at Lomoteng Mine had tested positive for the virus.

They called for a complete shutdown of the mine, as well as neighbouring mines, until the provincial government and the Department of Mineral Resources came up with a suitable plan to curb the rapid spread of the virus in the area.

The Department of Health referred media inquiries to the Department of Mineral Resources which could not be contacted for comment.