An employee of Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd. who recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus had symptoms before leaving its Detour Lake mine just over two weeks ago on a bus alongside other employees, chief executive officer Tony Makuch said.
The individual, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, had spent a couple of days in self-isolation at the Northern Ontario mine after getting sick earlier in the month before getting on the bus bound for Cochrane, Ont.
About 25 other employees shared the more-than-two-hour bus ride with the individual.
Mr. Makuch said it never occurred to anyone that the man should have left the site in an ambulance, so as to reduce the risk of virus spread to others on the bus.
“There was no thought at that time [to isolate the man],” he said. “We have a process in place now that we put everyone on the ambulance. We actually put it in place the next day.”
After the individual arrived in Cochrane, he waited almost a week before getting tested for COVID-19. Mr. Makuch said the man lives in the Cochrane region, is single and works at a desk job at Detour.
On Tuesday, the Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) In Timmins reported two new people had tested positive for the virus in the Timmins and Cochrane region, bringing the total number of cases in the area to 12.
The PHU contacted about 30 people who came in contact with the Detour Lake employee and told them to “seek a medical assessment.”
The Detour Lake employee arrived at the mine on March 12, the day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. On March 14, he went into self-isolation at the site after coming down with symptoms. Two days later, he left on the bus.
“Nobody suspected anything at the time with him,” Mr. Makuch said. “And he was in town for another six days before he went and got himself tested.”
Kirkland’s response to an employee coming down with symptoms stands in contrast to the actions of some other Canadian miners.
In mid-March, the entire 800-plus work force at Kinross Gold Corp.'s Kupol gold mine in Russia went into lockdown after two workers showed virus symptoms and were hospitalized. Even after the individuals tested negative for COVID-19, Kinross kept the mine on lockdown for a time. Company spokesperson Louie Diaz said in an e-mail to the Globe and Mail that the lockdown at Kupol was lifted last week, and the two individuals are doing well.
On March, 22, six days after the symptomatic individual left the Detour lake mine, Kirkland Lake said it was temporarily reducing production and manpower at the mine to “better protect employees, their families and local communities from the COVID-19 virus.”
This past Friday, Kirkland Lake informed its work force that the Cochrane-based employee had tested positive for the virus, and it advised people to monitor for symptoms at least for the two-week period after the individual left the site.
Three hundred of Detour Lake’s normal 1,100 staff remain on site.
Detour Lake is Canada’s second biggest gold mine after the Canadian Malartic mine in Quebec. Last year, Detour Lake produced 601,000 ounces of gold. Toronto-based Kirkland Lake bought the asset last year for $4.9-billion.
Shares in Kirkland Lake fell 4.2 per cent on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange to close at $41.45 apiece.
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