By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally, almost all major mining companies have taken precautions to reduce transmission rates while ensuring the health of their employees and safe operating conditions. Most have suspended international travel. Several have also taken measures to comply with rules of the lands in which they operate. Peru, for example, mandated a 15-day national quarantine on March 16, while some countries are restricting movements internally and at their borders.
Compañia de Minas Buenaventura SAA, Peru’s largest publicly held mining company, said it would limit the activities of its operations to those that ensure functionality of its mine pumping systems, water treatment plants, energy supply, hydroelectric substations, health services as well as safety conditions, including backfill and general support, among others. Buenaventura said it is prepared to immediately restart operations once it has received notice from federal and local authorities that it is appropriate to do so. The company said it has been actively monitoring COVID-19 since early January.
All operations and offices have implemented the appropriate travel restrictions, surveillance, monitoring and response plans to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and outbreak, including health screening of contractors, visitors and employees when appropriate.
In addition, individual operations continually assess the situation as it evolves and have limited external visitors to only those who are considered to be business critical. Each of its operations also continue to monitor and implement business continuity measures to mitigate and minimize any potential impacts of the global outbreak that might emerge on its operations, supply chain, commercial and financial activities. There hasn’t been any material impact to production or shipment of concentrate from any of the company’s operations to date as a result of COVID-19, the company said.
Anglo American has temporarily withdrawn workers from its Quellaveco copper project. “We are in the process of safely demobilizing most of the 10,000-strong construction workforce at our Quellaveco copper project, in support of the Government of Peru’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19,” CEO Mark Cutifani said. “Development of this world-class project has progressed ahead of schedule and within our budget and we would expect to be able to accommodate this slowdown within our market guidance on both timing and costs at this stage.”
Freeport-McMoRan has temporarily transitioned the Cerro Verde copper complex in Arequipa, Peru, to care and maintenance for the 15-day period. Cerro Verde, which operates one of the world’s largest concentrating facilities, produced 1 billion lb of copper and 29 million lb of molybdenum in 2019.
The situation is the same for the gold mines of Cajamarca. Newmont said it would ramp down mining operations at Yanacocha. Gold production from leach pads and the management of critical safety and environmental activities will continue. “The health and safety of our workforce and host communities takes precedence above all else,” President and CEO of Newmont Tom Palmer said. “While we have no confirmed COVID-19 cases among Newmont’s workforce or any major disruptions to production at our other sites at this time, we are proactively taking steps to protect our people and the continuity of our business during this global pandemic.”
Last week, Kinross Gold was informed that an employee from its Toronto office tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The company closed its Toronto office for a thorough cleaning and disinfection and asked its employees to work from home until at least March 20 when the need for the closure will be re-evaluated. The employee who tested positive was last in the Toronto office for 1.5 days ending March 3, is currently at home in self-quarantine, and is in good condition. This employee did not attend the PDAC conference or other external events and has not recently traveled to Kinross sites.
Kinross said that, to date, COVID-19 has not impacted production or product shipments at any of the company’s sites. Nor, to date, has there been any significant negative impact on, or disruption of, the company’s supply chain. It said it is constantly monitoring the situation and is working with its critical suppliers, who the company understands have mitigation plans in place, to minimize any potential supply chain disruptions that might emerge.
Since January, Mongolia has restricted the movement of goods and people within and across its border and this has further escalated recently as the first case of COVID-19 has occurred in the country. Rio Tinto said it is working in cooperation with the government of Mongolia to ensure its Oyu Tolgoi copper complex is operating in accordance with the restrictions the Mongolian authorities have put in place.
Work on the Underground Project continues, however, progress is being slowed as a result of these measures. The company said there is restricted access for teams from Rio Tinto, Oyu Tolgoi and construction partners to oversee development and provide specialist technical services, which has slowed the headframe commissioning of Shafts Nos. 3 and 4. Oyu Tolgoi’s open-pit mine continues to operate and deliver shipments of copper concentrate to its customers.
“It is too early to determine the impact of this and the team is doing all they can to minimize the disruption in a challenging environment,” said Rio Tinto Copper and Diamonds CEO Arnaud Soirat. “We will continue to work with our suppliers, customers and the government.”