Coronavirus fears at Chinese-run mines



WORKERS at Chinese-run mining companies in the Midlands province have expressed fear that they could be exposed to the deadly coronavirus by their Asian bosses who were reportedly refusing to self-quarantine after flying back from their homeland.

The workers who spoke on condition of anonymity told Southern Eye that their Chinese bosses were making frequent visits to China since the outbreak of the disease that has ravaged the world.

Last week, Gweru mayor Josiah Makombe revealed that 109 Chinese nationals arrived in the Midlands capital in the past month and were being monitored by the local authority’s health department.

Restive workers at a Chinese-owned mining entity known as Well Mine, which specialises in chrome smelting, located on the outskirts of Gweru, said two of their bosses had been quarantined at the site after arriving from China a fortnight ago, but a few days later, they forced themselves into the plant and had close contact with several people.

“Some of the workers actually ran away when the two Chinese bolted out of a quarantine house and stormed into the mining plant,” said a worker.

“However, quite a number of locals had close contact with them and we do not know if they are safe because they have not been tested and people here are afraid to report the incident for fear of losing their jobs.”

The deadly virus that has so far claimed over 6 000 lives and infected over 158 000 globally was last week declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. Several Sub-Sahara African countries have reported cases, including South Africa, raising fears the virus could find its way into Zimbabwe.

At another Chinese mining firm, Sino Non-Ferrous Investment Company, located near Surprise Business Centre outside Shurugwi, workers complained that respiratory masks provided to shield them from contracting the killer virus were inadequate.

The workers claimed that the mine recently fired two workers after they raised health concerns after their bosses arrived from China and refused to self-quarantine.

More serious cases of locals working in Chinese mining claims without safety clothing were confirmed at Asia Ferry Company in Lalapanzi and Jim Young mining firm in Shurugwi with bosses from the two entities refusing to speak to the media.

“We are at very high risk of contracting the virus because when talking to the bosses who have been to China several times in the past three weeks, one needs to be closer to them because they seem to be having hearing problems,” said a worker.

At Redan 2 Mine, located 25 kilometres from Gweru along the Nkayi Road, there were two open shafts where workers were prospecting together with their Chinese bosses with no safety masks.

“What pains us is that one of our Chinese bosses fell ill soon after arriving from China and was flown back to the country, but he had made some contacts with several of us. We are worried,” said a worker who declined to be named.

Antony Nyashanu, president of the National Union of Metal and Allied Industries in Zimbabwe said he was aware of the cases.

“We actually visited Well Mine after receiving reports of two Chinese who had stormed out of quarantine. However, when we arrived there, the authorities said the two had been taken back to China. As we speak, the 21 days that normally must pass to assess possible patients of Coronavirus are yet to pass so we are just hoping that no one tests positive,” said Nyashanu.

National Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe organising-secretary Cotten Ndlovu, said Chinese companies were generally concerned with making profits rather than the safety and welfare of their employees.

“We are really sitting on a time bomb; some of the Chinese companies actually are operating illegally so to them taking measures to protect their employees from coronavirus will be of no worry to them. The claims are right there in the bushes and no one notices.

There are also fears the deadly coronavirus could be “smuggled” into the country through small ports of entry like Chirundu Border Post amid revelations that some Chinese nationals coming back from China were avoiding rigorous checks at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport for fear of being quarantined.

The Asians were reportedly landing in Lusaka, Zambia then finishing their journey by road into Zimbabwe through Chirundu Border Post or other undesignated points.

Sources at AlfaRoses ChinaZim Farm in Mhangura confirmed that one of the directors at their company used the Chirundu Border Post last week on his way from China.