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BHP to require COVID vaccinations at Australian sites

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A view of a new nickel sulphate plant that global miner BHP Group is building to service the battery industry at its Nickel West operations, south of Perth
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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - BHP Group, the world's largest listed mining company, announced on Thursday that from the end of January all workers and visitors entering its workplaces in Australia will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Those requirements will be introduced earlier for some sites in high risk areas, such as Mt Arthur coal mine in New South Wales state, BHP said in a statement.

Australia has struggled since mid-year to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19.

It is now pushing to increase vaccination rates so that cities can begin lowering their lockdowns.

“The science is clear that widespread vaccination saves lives," BHP Minerals Australia President Edgar Basto said in a statement.

"We recognise the path forward is through widespread vaccination in Australia and we are looking at a range of practical ways to support that while protecting communities and workforces," he said.

The Mining and Energy Union said that it did not support BHP’s decision to mandate vaccines and that it was working through the legal implications of the decision.

"We have strongly advocated to government and industry that COVID-19 vaccinations should be voluntary for mineworkers," it said in a statement.

Western Australia, where BHP runs its iron ore operations, and which has remained mostly coronavirus free, said earlier this week that it would require all employees that work with natural resources to have a first COVID-19 shot from December.

That was to help protect vulnerable Indigenous communities as the country begins opening up, it said.

Australia's coronavirus numbers are relatively low, with some 120,000 cases and 1,381 deaths. The country's double dose vaccination rate has climbed to around 47%.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)