Mine disruptions escalate as virus rips around globe

An excavator in the pit at Centamin’s Sukari gold mine in Egypt. Credit: Centamin.

On a global scale, work is grinding to a halt and operations at mines are being temporarily suspended as majors and minors move to enact measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

With governments from Africa to Latin America issuing lockdown orders, disruptions to operations and supply chains are affecting the outlook for industrial and precious metals. Most of the majors have now announced halts at gold-copper operations.

Japan’s Sumitomo became the latest major diversified miner to temporarily suspend operations at some of its mines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The measure announced March 26 affects the company’s San Cristobal silver-zinc-lead mine in Bolivia and its Ambatovy nickel mine in Madagascar, as curfews have been imposed in those countries.

Trevali Mining temporarily stopped production at its Caribou zinc-lead-silver mine in Canada’s New Brunswick province on March 26 as challenges presented by the spread of covid-19 have added to woes posed by weak conditions in the zinc market.

On March 26, Glencore halted a number of smaller mines due to government restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus but said its larger operations were not materially impacted.

After announcing late last week a temporary suspension of operations until at least March 31 at its 49%-owned San José mine in Argentina, McEwen Mining reported on March 26 that it will also be suspending production at its Black Fox mine in Ontario and Gold Bar in Nevada.

On March 25, Codelco of Chile said it will temporarily suspend construction on some projects. Codelco said the 15-day suspension applied to remaining work being carried out to make Chuquicamata an underground mine, and projects at an early stage at Rajo Inca and Traspaso Andina.

A loader at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Stillwater PGM mine in Montana. Credit: Sibanye-Stillwater.

A loader at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Stillwater PGM mine in Montana. Credit: Sibanye-Stillwater.

Sibanye-Stillwater announced March 25 that it has begun implementing measures to place its South African gold and PGM operations under temporary care and maintenance, in accordance with the nationwide lockdown for 21 days, effective midnight on  March 26.

Miners in Ecuador are temporarily halting all activity in the country, following the government’s call to stay home.

AngloGold Ashanti announced March 24 that it will temporarily suspend production from its South Africa operations for three weeks as of midnight on March 26.

OceanaGold announced March 24 that the Waihi gold operation in the North Island of New Zealand will go on temporary care and maintenance for four weeks in response to measures put in place by the New Zealand government.

Yamana Gold announced March 24 that it will scale back operations at its Canadian Malartic mine, Canada’s largest gold mine.

Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay Minerals in South Africa will halt production by midnight March 26. The company will put furnaces on care and maintenance. Rio Tinto will also slow activities at aluminum assets in Canada.

Vale’s Voisey’s Bay mine in Canada will be on care and maintenance for four weeks, copper-concentrate production at Long Harbour will be reduced proportionally to the period of the stoppage.

Egypt-focused gold miner Centamin said on March 25 that operations at its Sukari gold mine remained unaffected by COVID-19, adding it had stockpiled enough critical supplies to last until the end of June.

Last week, producers across South America, where the bulk of the world’s copper is produced, halted or cut back operations and slowed construction.

Hong Kong-listed MMG said on March 19 that operations at its Las Bambas mine, with expected production in the 360,000 tonne range for this year, had been reduced temporarily after Peru declared a state of emergency on March 16.

Anglo American said it will slow the building of its US$5 billion Quellaveco project in Peru, and on March 19 the miner said it is scaling down operations at its Los Bronces copper mine in Chile. The company will also reschedule work at mines in countries such as Chile.

Teck Resources said on March 18 that it is temporarily suspending construction activities at its Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (QB2) copper project in Chile. The project is expected to have an initial mine life of 28 years, producing 316,000 tonnes copper equivalent annually.

Codelco said on March 18 that it planned to reduce its operations, but sales and shipments of copper had not yet been hit by the pandemic.

BHP said on March 19 that so far the pandemic had not affected its material operations, a day after Reuters news agency reported unionized workers at the Escondida mine in Chile operated by BHP requested a halt to operations unless management begins to implement stricter health and safety measures. Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, was projected to produce some 1.2 million tonnes this year.

Freeport-McMoRan said March 17 that it is suspending operations at its 350,000 tonne per year Cerro Verde mine in Peru for at least 15 days.

Antofagasta PLC said March 20 that it would put parts of its Los Pelambres expansion project on care and maintenance as the Chilean miner reduced the number of staff to reduce risk of coronavirus infection.

Glencore’s Mopani copper mines unit in Zambia said on March 20 that it would review all parts of its business due to the increasing economic uncertainty.

— This article first appeared in our sister publication, MINING.com


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