COVID-19 outbreak forces Baffinland to suspend Mary River mine operations
All non-essential workers are being sent home, company says; union says there are 30 presumptive cases
Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. has suspended operations at its Mary River iron ore mine due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the company announced Wednesday.
The decision comes on the heels of the Government of Nunavut reporting nine confirmed cases at the mine site earlier in the week.
Baffinland’s manager of stakeholder relations, Heather Smiles, said the company has identified “an increase in presumptive positive cases,” but, when asked by Nunatsiaq News, could not specify the exact amount.
“The health and safety of Baffinland’s workforce is always a top priority and the decision has been made to temporarily suspend operations,” Smiles wrote in the news release, adding that the suspension will continue until “control has been regained over the spread.”
All presumptive cases, as well as people identified through contract tracing, are isolating and being monitored regularly, she said.
Suspending operations is the “necessary thing for them to do,” said Mike Gallagher, the business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793, which represents workers at the mine.
The union has been told there are 30 presumptive cases, he said in a phone interview.
There are typically 800 workers at the mine at any given time — most of them members of the union, he said.
The union supports the steps Baffinland has taken, including the temporary halting of operations.
“If they’re putting the health and safety of the members first, even if it means an interruption in operations, we have to support that.”
“It seems they are doing everything they possibly can under difficult circumstances,” Gallagher said.
Workers maintaining the site and conducting environmental monitoring will remain at the mine, Smiles said. Industrial cleaners will be sanitizing the infrastructure and all non-essential workers have been sent home.
There has been no contact between Baffinland’s workforce and Nunavut communities since early 2020, Smiles wrote.
“The risk to communities from this outbreak remains low.”
Baffinland has been using an on-site portable COVID-19 testing lab to test its employees at the mine.
All mine employees are tested upon arrival at the mine and a follow-up test is conducted five days after arrival, to help detect infections that may have been incubating.
Currently, all mine staff are from southern Canada and fly directly to the site on northern Baffin Island.
About 700 workers are at the mine site.
In March 2020, Baffinland sent approximately 300 Nunavut-based workers home, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to Nunavut’s communities.
Smiles said discussions between the company and public health officials are ongoing to have a pop-up vaccination clinic for its workers on site in the future.