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The Quebec government previously ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses from midnight on March 24 to April 13. As part of this, mining operations were directed to reduce their activities to a minimum as part of the efforts to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.
On April 13, the government of Quebec extended the order for all non-essential businesses to remain closed until May 4; however, it has added mining operations in the province to the extended list of priority activities and services. Mining operations will be permitted to resume "in a gradual, structured way" from April 15.
A series of sanitary, hygiene and physical distancing measures have been discussed by the government, the Public Health Department and the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CNESST), to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19.
As a result, with authorisation from the Public Health Department and the CNESST, the mining industry will take a variety of steps designed to address the situation at each individual mine, including:
- Reducing fly-in fly-out to a strict minimum and maximising the use of resident workers;
- For fly-in fly-out operations, chartering more aircraft to allow for physical distancing;
- Providing a bus shuttle service to take workers directly to the mine, thereby limiting contact with neighbouring communities;
- Requiring all workers to wear personal protective equipment (goggles, gloves, etc.) and enhancing specific hygiene measures (use of disinfectant gel, etc.);
- Extending the work cycle so that workers remain at the work site for longer (for example, for 28 days instead of 14 days).
These health and safety measures will be in place onsite and for air and land-based transportation of workers, and are in compliance with the recommendations made by the Public Health Department. The CNESST will carry out inspections to ensure that they are implemented.
Jonatan Julien, Quebec's Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and minister responsible for the Côte-Nord region, said: "The health of Quebecers has always been the Quebec government's priority since the beginning of the crisis, and will continue to be so.
"The proposed measures will allow mining operations to resume in a gradual and structured way, with due respect for mine workers, their health and safety, and the health and safety of the surrounding communities."
Agnico Eagle is taking steps to resume its operations in the Abitibi region of Quebec - the LaRonde Complex, the Goldex mine and the Canadian Malartic mine (a 50-50 joint venture with Yamana Gold) - in an orderly fashion while ensuring the safety of employees.
Eldorado Gold will begin to ramp up operations at its Lamaque mine near Val-d'Or, Quebec on April 15. It added that it has safety protocols in place to address COVID-19 at all its sites, including Lamaque, such as temperature screening, compliance with additional hygiene measures and task observation to ensure that all work is performed respecting physical distancing and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
The company also has isolation procedures in place should an employee fall ill while at work. All personnel have been trained in these updated protocols.
George Burns, president and CEO of Eldorado Gold, said: "We are pleased to resume operations at Lamaque. Keeping our people safe is our priority each and every day. With the safety measures we have put in place at all our sites, we are confident that we can adapt our business and continue to create long term value for our stakeholders."
Glencore stated that its Raglan nickel and Matagami zinc operations in Quebec are analysing options to restart operations before May 4. It added that the company's goal is to operate only when it can keep its people safe and healthy, while safeguarding jobs and providing support to its local communities and other key stakeholders.
Hecla Mining plans to restart operations at its Casa Berardi gold mine in western Quebec on April 15.
The company said that the restart of operations is planned over a month and will follow the government's guidelines with a focus on maintaining appropriate COVID-19 practices, including emphasising proper hygiene practices and social distancing.
As an added precaution, open-pit contract mining will not yet resume to minimise the number of workers on site. Stockpiled open pit ore will be fed to the mill until contract mining resumes.
Phillips S Baker Jr, president and CEO of Hecla Mining, said: "We are pleased to bring the mine back into production, with the emphasis on the health and safety of our people. We continue to have no known cases of COVID-19 at any of our operations in part due to our early adoption of measures that protect our workforce and their communities."
Iamgold will commence the restart of its Westwood gold mine in Preissac, Quebec from care and maintenance status on April 15. The company stated that ramp-up activities will take approximately one week, with employees being trained on new procedures and sanitary measures, including adjusted work schedules and transport, physical distancing and protective equipment.
"Protecting the health and safety of our workforce is critical for the successful resumption of mining activities at Westwood," the company said. "Accordingly, the company is undertaking additional measures to improve monitoring of the well-being of our workforce."
To limit the number of people on site, non-essential employees will be encouraged to work from home, while its corporate office employees in Longueuil, Quebec will continue to work from home.
Stornoway Diamonds will extend the care and maintenance period of its Renard operations in the James Bay territory due to depressed diamond market conditions, despite the Quebec government announcement.
The company stated that despite positive signs in the diamond market in early 2020, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the entire marketing chain and diamond price to collapse.
The Renard operations will continue to be maintained on a care and maintenance basis, which will allow an efficient start up once favourable market conditions return. The company said that operations are being secured to ensure no impact on the environment, and a small group of employees will continue to oversee the physical assets and ensure their integrity.
Patrick Godin, president and CEO of Stornoway Diamonds, commented: "The unprecedented global events we are experiencing have unfortunately led to the board of directors to take this difficult decision impacting our employees and a number of our valued stakeholders. We thank all of them for their on-going support throughout the Renard history. We will continue to monitor the market conditions for improvements, which would allow for a restart of mining activities. The diamond market has proven over time to be resilient and prices have recovered following economic downturns."
Yamana Gold said that the Canadian Malartic mine in the Abitibi region of Quebec, a 50-50 joint venture between Yamana and Agnico Eagle Mines, will resume operations starting April 15. The resumption of mining activity is planned to occur over a period of several weeks with full attention to the health and safety of returning employees, contractors and suppliers.
The company confirmed that there are currently no suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 at any of Yamana's operations.