DOH to investigate surge in COVID-19 cases in Benguet mine sites

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 28 2020 02:54 PM | Updated as of Oct 28 2020 03:07 PM

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MANILA — The Philippine government will be looking into how health standards are being implemented in mine sites after at least two companies were forced to halt operations due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We will be investigating these cases and we will be advising the employers of these mining employees para maiwasan natin ang susunod na ganitong mga sitwasyon (so we can avoid these kinds of situations),” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing on Wednesday.

Among the companies forced to suspend operations were Apex Mining Co. and Philex Mining.

According to Apex Mining, its Sangilo mine in Itogon, Benguet is included in the localized lockdown of Barangay Poblacion issued on October 23.

“As of 26 October, more than eighty COVID-19 positive cases have been recorded in the mine site. Management is still awaiting all results of the swab tests conducted by the Rural Health Unit (RHU),” it said.

The company assured the public that affected areas were already disinfected and that it has a containment facility to accommodate patients. It is also seeking assistance of the local government unit for mass testing of its employees.

“Operation will resume upon completion of contact tracing and swab testing, and only those with negative results will be allowed to return to work,” it added.

Meanwhile, Philex Mining Corporation said it partially resumed underground operations at 50 percent capacity after the temporary suspension in its Padcal mine site.

The company said it earlier tested 1,425 employees and dependents and 151 turned out positive for COVID-19. Eight of those have already recovered.

“Most of the active cases were employees from underground operations and Management has continued to strictly implement minimum health standards as well as occupational health and safety protocols with the resumption of mine operations. This same level of adherence and enforcement is likewise being implemented in surface operations,” the company said.

It also assured the public that contact tracing is being done while it houses infected employees in a quarantine facility within the site.

It aims to resume operational capacity to 90 percent in the next 3 days.

Vergeire said health standards are the same for mine sites although there is a higher risk because employees are inside an enclosed space, which may result in the virus staying longer in the air.

“Hindi kayo exempt from the minimum health standards and moreso you are in the setting where there is higher risk for transmission because of the enclosed space, because of people na magkakasama at maramihan kayo,” she said as a reminder to mining companies.

(You are not exempt from minimum health standards especially since you are in a setting where there is higher risk of transmission because of the enclosed space, and with a large number of people working together.)

She said they will advise the mining companies once they are done with the investigation through their regional health office.