Like many large Canadian mining companies, Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. is taking precautionary steps in the face of the global spread of the novel coronavirus.
At its Constancia copper mine in Peru, all of its workers are being screened for any sign of the virus, with their temperatures being taken upon entry to the site. In the event of someone contracting the virus, the company has isolation facilities in place, and ambulances on standby. Back at the Toronto head office, the IT department recently did extensive testing to ensure that people can work from home if need be.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Peter Kukielski, chief executive officer of Hudbay.
The steps taken by Hudbay are by no means unique. Barrick Gold Corp., Teck Resources Inc., B2Gold Corp. and Lundin Mining Corp., are taking similar measures. They’re banning non-essential travel, stocking up on essential supplies at mining sites, and testing out systems in case a mine needs to be shut down or everyone at head office suddenly needs to work from home.
"It’s inevitable that people will have some sort of direct exposure, and we’ll have to deal with those cases,” said Marie Inkster, CEO of Lundin, a Toronto-based copper miner.
“We are working on pandemic-response plans for all of the mines, and we have been for some time," she added.
In the event of one of Lundin’s mines having to be shut down due to a worker coming down with the virus, critical systems such as tailings dams will be monitored remotely. The company is also planning for possible supply-chain disruptions, either an inability to ship its copper, or an inability to receive inward product. Lundin operates mines in Chile, Brazil and the United States.
Ostensibly, the mining industry appears particularly vulnerable to disruption from the virus. Most of the large Canadian companies have mine portfolios that are spread in countries across the globe. Within those countries, mines tend to be located in remote spots, with workers often flying in and out of camps. And with people working and living in close quarters for weeks on end, camps potentially offer an efficient breeding ground for the virus.
In Toronto, the epicentre of the global mining industry, COVID-19 has already made its mark. On Wednesday, senior gold miner Kinross Gold Corp. evacuated its headquarters as a precautionary measure, after one of its employees came down with the virus. Head-office employees will work from home until at least March 20, as the company’s Toronto office undergoes a thorough disinfecting.
Globally, the coronavirus has become a crisis unlike any other in modern times. The World Health Organization this week declared the virus, which originated in China late last year, a global pandemic, as the number of cases and deaths spiral. So far, the respiratory disease has infected more than 137,000 people and killed more than 5,000.
“It’s alarming. Every day you wake up, there’s more cases,“ said Clive Johnson, CEO of Vancouver-based B2Gold, which has operations in West Africa.
So far, B2 hasn’t had any of its employees test positive for the virus, but the gold miner is following medical screening recommendations from health authorities such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. B2 has also scaled back any non-essential travel, and is working with authorities in Africa to make sure any potential cases of COVID-19 are promptly and properly diagnosed.
Earlier this month, about 35 B2 employees attended the giant Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto. Last week, health officials announced that a PDAC attendee from Sudbury, Ont., subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus, and added that the man likely contracted the virus at the conference.
More than 23,000 people from all over the world attended the mining event, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Barrick chief executive Mark Bristow and Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. founder Robert Friedland. Anyone who attended the gathering is being told to stay vigilant for signs of the virus.
Even in the absence of any major operational shutdowns, the new coronavirus has already inflicted serious damage on the mining industry. All of the base-metals miners have seen their share prices plummet over the past few weeks, as fears of a global recession take hold. Copper, which is particularly leveraged to the health of the overall economy, is trading at levels last seen in late 2016.
And despite exposure to gold, the supposed asset of last resort, gold miners have also taken a pounding, as investors sell across the board. On Friday alone, the TSX Global Gold Index, which tracks the shares of the world’s biggest gold miners, slid by 7 per cent.
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