Agnico Eagle begins COVID-19 testing at airport before employees fly to Nunavut

All southern employees must be tested before boarding charter flights

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. has started testing all southern employees boarding the company’s charter flights to its sites in Nunavut for COVID-19. Employees will be tested before boarding and will be placed in isolation at the mine until their results come back. (Photo courtesy of Agnico Eagle)

By Emma Tranter

A mining company that operates in Nunavut will begin testing all its southern employees for COVID-19 at the airport before flying up.

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. announced on July 2 that a new testing laboratory has been installed at the Val-d’Or and Mirabel airports.

Non-Nunavummiut employees at the mines board charter flights at the Val-d’Or airport to get to Agnico’s Meliadine and Meadowbank mines in the Kivalliq. Cargo flights travel to Agnico Eagle’s Nunavut mine sites from the Mirabel airport, near Montreal.

Every employee boarding a flight must be tested for COVID-19. If they refuse, they will not be allowed to board, Martin Plante, Agnico Eagle’s vice-president of Nunavut operations, said at a news conference on July 2.

Test results will be available the same day, Plante said. All employees arriving at the mine will be placed in isolation until they are cleared, Plante said.

“The goal in implementing the new testing, for us, is to get the results as fast as we can,” Plante said.

In April, the company started conducting COVID-19 tests for its employees at its Meliadine mine near Rankin Inlet using a mobile lab. That project was led by Dr. Gary Kobinger, the director of the Infectious Disease Research Centre at Laval University. Kobinger also heads the Val-d’Or laboratory.

“If a positive case were to be found, isolation, tracing and extraction protocols are in place following the Quebec Public Health guidelines and recommendations,” Plante said.

To date, the company has completed more than 4,600 tests. All came back negative, Plante said.

For Meadowbank employees, tests are sent to the Meliadine site.

In March, all of Agnico Eagle’s Nunavut employees were sent home. The company is providing those employees with a 75 per cent base salary, which was recently extended until July 11. Nunavut employees will not return to the mines at this time.

Agnico Eagle worker tests positive for COVID-19 at Mirabel office

Officials also said one of Agnico Eagle’s contract employees recently tested positive for COVID-19 its office at the Mirabel airport.

On June 22, the employee went to Mirabel to get tested prior to travelling to Finland for work. The employee was wearing a mask at all times and was practising physical distancing, Agnico Eagle said.

The individual was asymptomatic. The test detected a “signal for a positive case of COVID-19,” officials said. The test was sent to Quebec’s public health laboratory, which confirmed the positive case the following day, June 23.

Public health officials instructed the employee to go into isolation in a hotel in Saint-Jérôme, Que.

“This individual did not embark on any of the northbound flights,” Plante said.

The employee was in the Mirabel facility from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. on June 22 and had no contact with any other employees or contractors on site. It was established that 12 people were on site at that time and all were sent home to complete a 14-day isolation period. They were tested again on June 26, and the results were negative. They will be tested again before returning to the site.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Unbelievable on

    And to think, the NU govn’t cannot test people in the hub cities before heading north. This mining company is heading in the right direction while people are being held for 14 days in a hotel. Wow, great job Agnico! Showing a good example of how this should be done!

  2. Posted by CB on

    If a mining company is able to get reliable COVID-19 tests for its employees flying to Nunavut that only take 1 day to process, the GN better have a good explanation for why it’s stranding Nunavummiut down south in 14 days quarantine. Unfortunately I’m not too optimistic.

    • Posted by Keith on

      Because of false negatives.

      The most widely used test around the world cannot detect the virus on day 1 of an infection, and on day 8 still gives a false negative 20% of the time. If someone who is tested is infected, there’s a 1 in 5 chance it will be missed. If you miss someone going into one of the mines, the situation is contained because there’s no contact between the mines and any of the communities, and the people most at risk from COVID-19, elders and people with serious health issues, aren’t at mine sites. The mines also have an easier time enforcing rules to prevent spread.

      If you depended on testing to replace the waiting period, there’s a 1 in 5 chance it will miss someone who has been infected for a few days. There is *100%* probability that it will not pick up someone who had been infected just before the test. And then it’s free in the community because the infected person thinks “Hey, I tested negative, so I don’t need to self-isolate for 2 weeks.” And then it’s free in the communities and the entire territory goes into lockdown again.

    • Posted by Keith on

      To continue with the false negative problem, all you have to do is look at the Baffinland situation: the presumptive case there tested *negative* when they arrived, but because Baffinland requires a second test 5 days after everyone arrives, it was caught then. It’s possible the person fell into the 1 in 5 who gets missed by the tests, or the 100% who are missed because they caught it just before being tested. Then the third test confirmed the second.

      The only way it would work for people coming into Nunavut would be to have a test before they come up, then go into quarantine for several days and have a second test, then stay in quarantine until they get a second negative test result back (the odds of being missed drop to 5%).

    • Posted by Takes Time on

      If you were exposed to the virus the day before the test, you won’t test positive the next day. The 14 day quarantine allows the symptoms to be developed so you can find positive people.

      This mine testing is just a form of security theater.

    • Posted by KC on

      It’s the GN! They don’t need a good explanation, removal of Premier no real explanation, B&W store before a treatment centre no real explanation, the list goes on and on.
      Question is, how do we fix the GN?

      • Posted by Pretty good record on

        So tell me why it’s been working pretty good for a couple months? There are a few different type of testers. They seem to have a pretty good track record to date.

  3. Posted by Jimi on

    Hey Nunatsiaq News: How about a story about the petition against their pipeline that has 575 signatures, mostly all Rankinmuit?

  4. Posted by Concerned Inuk on

    There is a difference between isolation and testing.

    It can take up to two weeks for the virus to show up as symptoms in someone who has been infected, which is why the GN has a 14 day isolation period before people can enter Nunavut and live amongst the population.

    Testing only detects whether the virus has been in someone’s body long enough to show up in a test, but they can still carry the virus if their test shows up as negative, and then infect people in Nunavut communities even though their test showed up a negative.

    Agnico Eagle employees pose a greater risk to Nunavut than those who have been in isolation for 14 days.

    • Posted by Observer on

      No, they don’t, because AEM employees are isolated from Nunavummiut. If/when COVID-19 gets into the communities, the odds are very much against it being a southern mine employee who will bring it in.

      • Posted by Chris on

        AEM is breaking the deal they made with KIA. The mine has operated without any Inuit employees for multiple months and they have ramped up using Quebec replacement workers, including advertising jobs exclusively in French. I am not sure how KIA is tolerating this mockery. Every day the mine is operated without Inuits, is a day lost for the community to engage their skills and profit because it’s a day closer to the end of mine life. The faster they ramp up, they sooner the opportunities for locals ends. What AEM is doing should not be allowed.

        • Posted by Our elected officials on

          Our elected officials, KIA, and NTI all made these decisions for us! While we get pay cuts and alot of them on casual work no longer getting paid. Some of us who have larger families are having a harder time now more than ever! While all of our elected officials we elected to help us out are at home with full salaries. Pilirihuangnaliq! Maiqa’taaq! (I want to go back to work! Hurry!)
          With zero cases at camp and it being monitored closely! What are we waiting for! This will be around for a while ppl!

  5. Posted by Kate on

    Isolation in Winnipeg doesn’t seem to be working too well, some are going out drinking and making a scene.
    Having isolate again on the GNs tab. How can we be sure that people isolate in Winnipeg before going up?

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