Miner BHP sees rise of Covid-19 cases in Chile's largest mine

Global mining group suffers covid-19 upsurge in workers, thought to be coming from nearby Calama

Global miner BHP Group Ltd has announced stricter health protocols following coronavirus cases at its Escondida copper mine in Chile, the worlds largest, reached 150, with 59 at its smaller Spence deposit.

BHP said 76 of those cases remained active and that the discovery of new cases suggested a “stabilisation and tendency toward decline”.

It added: “This is a dynamic situation that can change rapidly, which is why we are making our best effort to implement all measures necessary to protect the health of our workers and contractors.”

A rise in cases in the city of Calama had led BHP workers flying into the mines via the nearby Antofagasta airport instead, the company said. Workers were being encouraged to observe stricter social-distancing measures during trips.

BHP is one of a number of major miners operating in Chile to have upgraded safety measures in recent weeks as the world’s number one copper producer reaches the peak of coronavirus cases and deaths, and hospitals fill up.

Last week, state-owned copper miner Codelco, the worlds biggest, announced a strengthening of safety measures including a 14-day-on, 14-day-off shift schedule and the suspension of some construction projects after two workers died from the virus. 

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Chilean Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica has stated the need to strike a balance between protecting mine workers from the coronavirus and keeping the country’s economic engine running.

Prokurica said the “indispensable” mining sector had frozen the operations of about half its workforce through measures such as remote working, shift changes and suspension of projects, and tightened health protocols in response to the outbreak of the virus in Chile in March.

But the mining industry needs to keep operating, he said, if the government is to sustain emergency social support packages to address economic fallout from the pandemic.

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