Darkov coal mine in spotlight amid sudden coronavirus outbreak

Photo: ČTK/Ožana Jaroslav

Although the coronavirus infection rate is continuing to follow a downward trend in the country, a recent outbreak in the Silesian coal mine of Darkov has seen the virus spread at an alarming rate. As of Friday morning 150 cases had been found among the miners, their families and the surrounding population. Nevertheless, mining work continues, albeit with tougher hygienic standards.

Photo: ČTK/Ožana Jaroslav

One of the few remaining Czech coal mines in operation, the Darkov complex is located in coal rich Silesia on the border with Poland. The mine has been in operation for nearly 50 years and except for an ignition of methane gas in 2015, which cost the lives of 3 workers, it has avoided any major incident.

Darkov,  photo: Petr Štefek,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Now however, Darkov has become the centre of attention for those following the coronavirus pandemic in the Czech Republic.

News started coming in at the end of last week that 17 of its miners had tested positive for COVID-19. Following the subsequent application of wide range blanket testing in Darkov, the amount of newly discovered cases has since risen substantially to 150 as of Friday morning and medics from the Czech Army have been sent in to provide support.

The director of the regional hygienic station in the nearby city of Ostrava, Dr Pavla Svrčinová, told Czech Radio’s Radiozurnal that there is no reason yet to put the surrounding region into quarantine, but rather to isolate those infected. That is proving hard in some cases.

Pavla Svrčinová,  photo: Hygienická stanice hl. m. Prahy
“We have 150 people who tested positive, but only 120 of those have been given an epidemiological examination. This is because when it comes to the others we either do not have the correct number or none at all.

“We are trying to get in touch with these people in some way, whether it is by finding out their address or correct phone number, to get a chance to talk to them. We currently have no other information than that they have tested positive.”

However, Dr Svrčinová says she is certain that all of those who tested positive will be traced eventually.

One of the systems in place which are helping in this race is the so-called “smart quarantine” tracking system, which relies on mobile data to establish the infected individual’s contacts over the past weeks.

Mobile phones often lack signal when working below ground, but information gathered from the compulsory tracing chips which the miners have to wear on their helmet has also helped in establishing a virtual map of their movements.

Photo: Fernando Zhiminaicela / Pixabay  CC0
Dr Svrčinová also said that further mass testing will take place during the weekend, including among the employees of the mines various sub-contractors.

“We will be testing a further 1,500 to 1,600 persons, depending on how many turn up.

“Keep in mind that there are also Poles and Slovaks working for these sub-contractors. Each one of them is likely to have been at least in contact with their family, so that is a whole other group we will need to test.”

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch acknowledged the outbreak and said that, along with several locations in Prague, it is the worst in the country. However, he pointed out that the situation is improving in Czechia overall and urged people with other health issues to start visiting their doctors again.