Nunavut mining company tries to quell concerns about potential for COVID-19
Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. says southern workers must avoid community contact
Updated at 4:30 p.m.
Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. says it’s taking measures at its Nunavut mines to separate Inuit communities from southern employees, to help address concerns about the potential spread of the new coronavirus.
Southern workers arriving and leaving the territory’s mine sites must now avoid all community contact to help prevent spreading COVID-19, said Dominique Girard, Agnico Eagle’s vice-president of Nunavut operations, in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.
Agnico Eagle reminded all employees to practice self-isolation for 14 days after they return home.
Nunavut’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said on Friday afternoon that he’s satisfied with the company’s precautions and will allow its mines to continue to operate.
“I have reviewed the plans and preparations of Agnico Eagle Mines, and it is my belief that under the current circumstances their working arrangements do not represent a significant risk of spreading COVID-19 to the residents of Rankin Inlet,” Patterson said in a news release issued by the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet.
There have not been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.
The company’s decision came after some Rankin Inlet residents used pickup trucks to block the road from their community to the Meliadine gold mine on the evening of Wednesday, March 18, with the goal of stopping Quebec-based workers from getting to the mine site.
On Thursday, March 19, Agnico Eagle decided that its Nunavut employees should return home, as had already been decided by the two other Nunavut mining companies.
All will all be off the mine sites by the end of the weekend.
Agnico Eagle workers will continue to receive their regular pay while they are off site, said the company, and they will be hired back when the pandemic crisis eases, Girard said.
In Nunavut, Agnico Eagle employs between 800 and 900 workers each week at its Meadowbank and Amaruq gold mines near Baker Lake and 600 and 625 workers each week at its Meliadine gold mine near Rankin Inlet.
Between 400 and 500 of these employees are Inuit.
The decision to send Nunavut workers back is hard, said Girard.
“We are missing them,” he said. “We are having to re-adapt because Inuit are integrated into the functioning of everything.”
Girard said he respected those who came out in their trucks to protest because “we’re in a democracy.”
For now, the company has no plans to put its mine into care and maintenance, as is the case for two other northern mines, Ekati in the Northwest Territories and Voisey’s Bay in Labrador.
“But things are moving very fast. Today as we’re speaking ‘no,’ but it could change with time,” Girard said.
Rankin Inlet Mayor Harry Towtongie said he went to see the blockade yesterday with Kivalliq Inuit Association President Kono Tattuinee.
“I think we have to do our best to keep each other safe,” said Towtongie. “Keep each other safe and keep care of what we can.”
For now, Towtongie said he’s leaving the decision on whether or not to keep the mine open to the professionals.
“People have to work and life has to go on. Life is going to go on and has to go on. One side of me thinks everything should shut down for a while, that the North should shut down for a while, and there is this other part of me that we need to keep this place where people go to work, ” Towtongie said.
“They can’t just lock it and shutter it down. There is always going to have to be someone there anyway.”