Mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest reveals he contracted COVID-19

The West Australian
Tue, 19 January 2021 5:10AM

Mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest has revealed he contracted COVID-19 while on a Fortescue Metals Group business trip last year. Credit: JAMES ROSS/AAPIMAGE

WA billionaire Andrew Forrest has recovered from COVID-19 after contracting the potentially deadly disease while on a round-the-world Fortescue Metals Group business trip late last year.

FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines confirmed a report this morning that the company’s chairman and founder had caught coronavirus while on a global tour, signing agreements on behalf of the company’s Fortescue Future Industries subsidiary and his private charity Minderoo Foundation.

It is understood the mining magnate contracted the virus from a Russian interpreter in central Asia after she joined the travel party during a four-month tour of 47 countries.

The interpreter, who had also been introducing Mr Forrest to government leaders, tested positive in Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

Mr Forrest said he postponed the remaining leg of the tour, which had been scoping potential renewable energy projects, and flew the party back to a travel base in Croatia, where there was state-of-the-art medical and testing equipment.

He spent several days recovering in a Swiss hospital receiving high-level care before being released.

“I’m grateful that our apparatus, systems technologies and precautions kept my team safe,” he told the Australian Financial Review.

“I would rather have not caught COVID but it hasn’t harmed me. I’m still as fit as a fiddle but the big thing is that it enabled us to put together a suite of assets to create a supply of renewable fuels and products which could rival the fossil-fuel sector.

“And that is what we are out to prove.”

Mr Forrest said he was able to continue his work despite his period of hospitalisation.

“There is period with COVID between the seventh and tenth days that if anything is going to go wrong it will happen then, so as a precautionary measure I went to a respiratory specialist unit in Switzerland,” he told the AFR.

“I had to get medivaced out in a little aircraft with negative pressure and the whole box and dice.

“Then I spent three days being monitored just to make sure I was going to be OK. You are not released until the Swiss authorities want to release you and say you are not going to be a threat.”

Mr Forrest, who turns 60 this year, returned to Perth in the new year after completing quarantine in NSW and has now made a full recovery. He has returned to work and is even back cycling and boxing.

Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest's Minderoo Foundation put $160 million towards bringing crucial life-saving medical supplies and equipment to Western Australia. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

Ms Gaines said in a statement this morning the company had developed “world’s best practice COVID-19 security protocols” for Mr Forrest’s touring party in collaboration with medical and risk management experts, to ensure the group travelled safely at all times.

“The security protocol included professional PCR testing at verified, government-approved laboratories for all travellers every 24 to 48 hours and the procurement of a rapid diagnostic tool as a secondary measure, which was available for those on the trip,” she said.

“Dr Forrest and each person in the Fortescue travelling party received an average of 46 PCR tests during their time abroad.”

Ms Gaines said all team members had returned negative test results before returning to Australia earlier this month and had strictly adhered to national quarantine requirements.

“Most importantly, every one of our team members on this trip returned home safely,” she noted.

Australia’s richest man has played a big part in Australia’s fight against COVID-19. In the early months of the pandemic he committed up to $160 million to bring lifesaving medical supplies and equipment to WA on special charter flights through his Minderoo Foundation.

He also helped the Federal Government procure 10 million testing kits.

At the time, Mr Forrest said he hoped the supplies would reduce panic in the community and uncertainty about the lack of sufficient medical equipment and COVID-19 testing.

He said Fortescue’s relationships in China — which buys the bulk of the miner’s Pilbara-produced iron ore — had allowed Minderoo to step up procurement efforts “on behalf of and in collaboration with the WA and Federal governments”.

“Unprecedented times cannot be met with a precedented response,” Mr Forrest said.

“The trusted relationships, procurement expertise and logistics knowledge of the FMG and Minderoo Foundation teams, have been fundamental in rapidly securing this vital equipment.

“Our nation is facing a threat not seen in our lifetimes.”