Signalling the continuous risk of COVID-19 despite following stringent measures to keep it at bay, 264 workers at JSW Steel's Karnataka plant have tested positive for the virus.
"Of the 264 who were infected, 154 have been discharged," Vinod Nowal, JSW Steel's Deputy Managing Director told Moneycontrol. "The rate has gone down. Initially, up to 13 percent of those tested were turning positive. Now it is down to 4 percent," he added.
The cases, first of which was reported in early June, have led to the country's leading steelmaker putting restrictions on the movement of workers in what is among the largest single-location steel manufacturing facilities in the world. The plant, spread across 10,000 acres, has a capacity to make 12 million tons of steel a year.
JSW Steel is not the only major manufacturer up against the challenge. Earlier this month, some employees at two-wheeler major Bajaj Auto's Auarangabad tested positive, and two died.
"We have more than 8,100 employees and contractors employed in our Waluj plant. Our current incidence of 140 cases of COVID is less than 2 percent of our strength. Two of our infected employees with underlying conditions of hypertension and diabetes have unfortunately succumbed to the infection," said Ravi Kyran Ramasamy, CHRO, Bajaj Auto in a statement.
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The incidents have highlighted the risk of getting infected as companies across sectors open up and employees get back to offices and factories. At the same time, industry executives point out it is unviable for businesses to remain shut after nearly two-months of lockdown in April and May.
In fact, Bajaj Auto Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj questioned the extension of lockdown in some states such as Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
COVID-19 cases in India are nearing the 5.5 lakh mark, and more than 16,000 have lost their lives.
JSW Steel's Karanataka facility is located in the Bellari-Hosptel iron ore belt, which has seen 725 positive COVID-19 cases till now. It added 80 new cases on June 28, the highest single-day surge.
The increase had led to many locally calling for a complete shutdown of the plant. But local industry bodies have voiced against it, saying more two lakh people depend on the steel plant.
To limit the further spread, JSW Steel has asked about 11,000 workers to stay back at home. "We have asked these workers to not to come to the plant. These are workers who come from villages up t0 40km away," said Nowal. About 17,000 workers live in the steel township and colonies nearby and the attempt is to limit workers living beyond these areas, to come into the facility.
"We are taking additional steps to test and isolate any employee that shows symptoms," said Nowal. The company has converted the hospital inside the steel plant township into a COVID-19 centre, with 140 beds. Another training facility has become a 'parallel hospital' with 250 beds. About 200 beds have been separately arranged for those who have been quarantined.
The restrictions on workers movement mean that the company now runs two shifts in the plant, instead of the usual three. "Our production is at 85 to 90 percent of the capacity. It was 85 percent in May," said Nowal.