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‘Hasn’t harmed me’: Australia’s richest man shares COVID battle

Lucy Dean
·3-min read
Mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest speaks during a business luncheon in Sydney on April 17, 2012.  Forrest, founder and Chairman of Fortescue Metals Group and the Australian Children's Trust, graduated in economics and politics before building a distinguished career in investment banking, mining and farming, creating some of the largest raw material exporters in the world.  AFP PHOTO/William WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
Mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has spoken about his experience with the disease. WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images

Australia’s richest man, mining magnate Andrew Forrest, contracted COVID-19 while travelling in Central Asia but has said he doesn’t regret the travel.

The $27 billion Forrest had been travelling the world looking for renewable energy projects for his company, Fortescue, he told the Australian Financial Review.

During the trip, the 59-year-old businessman signed renewable and green energy agreements with seven countries, but also contracted the disease from a Russian interpreter.

The interpreter had tested positive in Tashkent in Uzbekistan, prompting Forrest to postpone the rest of the 41-strong travelling party’s plans for central Asia, instead flying the group back to its Croatian base and medical and testing equipment.

Forrest alone tested positive for the disease, and was medevaced out to a Swiss hospital where he spent three days.

He has since recovered from the deadly virus and did not need to be placed on a respirator as his trip to Switzerland was purely a precautionary measure.

“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.”

Late last year, Forrest announced plans to take on the fossil fuels sector with an enormous investment in renewable energy.

"After scientific and personal analysis of the renewable energy resources of our little planet, I can assure you that there is more than enough renewable energy to sustainably and economically supply every person on this planet from this time forth," he told shareholders at Fortescue’s annual general meeting at the time.

Fortescue plans to invest around $1 billion in de-carbonisation and hydrogen projects by 2023 as it begins to transition its iron ore operations to renewable power, before doing the same for its port, shipping and rail networks.

“The renewable energy industry could be just as big, if not a larger employer of people in Australia than the coal industry,” Forrest told Bloomberg in 2020.

COVID-19 accelerates

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far infected 95.2 million people and led to 2.03 million deaths around the world, and the world’s richest haven’t been spared.

Virgin founder Richard Branson revealed earlier this month that his mother died of coronavirus at 96.

“I’m sorry to share that, sadly like a lot of people’s relatives and friends right now, my mum Eve has also passed away from Covid,” Branson said.

“She held on for one last victory, managing to fight off the virus, but had expended all of her energy in the process.”

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