The number of COVID-19 cases at TMAC Resources Inc.’s Hope Bay gold mine stands at 10 positive and six presumed positive, Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said in an Oct. 8 COVID-19 briefing. (File image)

COVID-19 outbreak at Nunavut gold mine is “contained,” says chief medical officer

“I can report that there is no further evidence of transmission on site”

By Jane George

The outbreak at TMAC Resources Inc.’s Hope Bay gold mine appears to be over, Nunavut’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said today during a Government of Nunavut COVID-19 news conference.

“I can report that there is no further evidence of transmission on site and, while the risk can never be zero, we do consider the outbreak at Hope Bay mine contained,” Patterson said.

In all, tests confirmed 10 positive cases of COVID-19 at the mine, “with six presumptive positive cases awaiting confirmatory testing,” he said.

That is up from a total of 10 positive and presumptive cases last week.

None of these cases are likely to change Nunavut’s tally of zero cases in the territory, Patterson said.

That’s because, so far, the home jurisdictions of those who tested positive for COVID-19 have elected to report the individual cases, he said.

With the outbreak contained, Patterson said travel to and from the mine, located in western Nunavut, can resume for workers who have finished their isolation period and those who have not been identified as high-risk contacts.

The first charter is due at Hope Bay within 24 hours to take 60 per cent of those workers who are at the mine directly back south, TMAC told Nunatsiaq News.

Restricting travel for 10 days was instrumental in containing the outbreak and reducing the transmission of COVID-19 to other jurisdictions, Patterson said.

Patterson pegged the risk of possible infection involving these workers leaving the mine to return home at about “one per cent.”

Some high-risk contacts remain in isolation at the mine, but Patterson said they should be cleared to leave the site soon.

A second charter will take these workers out, probably early next week, TMAC said.

When asked if he thought the mine had done enough to avoid the outbreak, Patterson said that it was “too soon to get into laying blame.”

“There’s government responsibility, corporate responsibility and personal responsibility to minimize the chance of an outbreak happening, and we have to look at all those levels,” he said.

TMAC is planning to install an on-site COVID-19 testing device, which will allow for mandatory testing, Jason Neal, TMAC’s president and CEO, told Nunatsiaq News in a conference call shortly after the government news conference wrapped up.

The Precision Bio-monitoring testing machine is used widely in Ontario mines, Neal said.

The testing machine should arrive on the second charter to Hope Bay, before the arrival of the next full rotation of about 120 workers on site, he said.

TMAC is also bringing in additional cleaning support on the first charter in, he said.

As for how the infection may have taken root at the mine site, two asymptomatic workers from Alberta, who did not know they had been exposed to COVID-19, may have brought the new coronavirus up with them, Neal said.

Only two or three of those who tested positive ever showed any symptoms of COVID-19, he said.

Neal said he is confident that new measures in place at the mine site will be effective—so much so that he is heading there himself next week.

And Neal said he feels everyone at Hope Bay will now be more vigilant.

“People are going to be more careful,” he said.

A debriefing session is planned with the Nunavut government, which deployed its rapid response COVID-19 team to the mine.

This may help to understand how the outbreak occurred and offer recommendations, said Alex Buchan, TMAC’s vice-president for corporate social responsibility.

“We look forward to participation in that,” he said.

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by George on

    On-site testing alone is a problem.

    Staff should be tested before getting on the airplane. Otherwise, the inevitable positives will likely infect more people during the flight to Hope Bay. An airplane is one of the most dangerous places to be during this pandemic.

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