Nunavut mining company updates infectious disease plan for coronavirus
Nunavut Mining Symposium still on for now, but organizers “watching this situation very closely”
One Nunavut mining company says it has a plan to help keep the new coronavirus, COVID-19, at bay.
TMAC Resources Inc., which operates the Hope Bay gold mine near Cambridge Bay in western Nunavut, says it intends to prevent the spread of the virus and protect its workers and operations through an infectious disease plan that is now being updated to account for COVID-19.
TMAC has an existing infectious disease control plan in place that considers similar diseases such as avian and swine flu and SARS, said Alex Buchan, TMAC’s vice-president of corporate social responsibility.
The company updated its plan as of last week to include measures specific to COVID-19, Buchan said on Tuesday, March 10.
Officials from Nunavut’s Department of Health are helping to update the TMAC plan, he said.
A northern mine health and safety forum is scheduled to take place in Yellowknife on March 16, with representatives from the Government of Nunavut and the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission of the N.W.T. and Nunavut planning to attend.
At this forum, where government agencies will discuss health and safety measures with mine operators from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, “further direction and advice will be made available to us at that time,” Buchan said.
“We will be attending this meeting and it is likely that our updated infectious disease plan will be finalized shortly thereafter,” he said.
Meanwhile, TMAC has already put up COVID-19 information posters in all official languages at its Hope Bay site to promote measures such as regular washing of hands.
TMAC’s draft plan focuses on the following:
- COVID-19 symptom awareness among staff.
- Self-assessment of staff prior to starting a work rotation and, if necessary, self-quarantine at home.
- Stringent preventative health and hygiene protocols on site.
- Direction for the use of personal protective equipment and supplies necessary to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
- Procedures for addressing symptomatic individuals at site by medic and management, including quarantine procedures at site.
Buchan said TMAC would take direction from Nunavut public health officials on how to handle a symptomatic coronavirus case at site.
“Essentially, once we have reported a symptomatic case to GN, they tell us what to do.”
Currently there are about 350 people at Hope Bay who work rotations at the mine site, flying in from various locations to Cambridge Bay.
TMAC’s infectious disease plan does not address how to deal with a community that might go under quarantine, Buchan said.
“We would expect our employees living in such a community to take direction from public health officials, as would any other citizen,” he said.
Nunatsiaq News has asked Nunavut’s two largest mining companies, Agnico Eagle Mining Ltd. and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., to provide details about their infectious disease plans, but hasn’t yet received a response.
Some Canadian mining industry representatives may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the recent Prospectors and Developers Association Conference in Toronto, attended by about 26,000 people from 132 countries from March 1 to March 4 in downtown Toronto.
One attendee from Sudbury, Ont. has since been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Buchan was not at the PDAC conference, but he said “given those numbers and demographics I would think it statistically likely that someone at the conference had it.”
“Whether it could have been avoided almost two weeks ago, given how this is evolving, I do not know,” he said.
The spread of the virus could impact the Nunavut Mining Symposium, to be held from March 30 to April 2. The event can bring up to 500 delegates to Iqaluit and also involves a trade fair that’s open to the public.
“We are, of course, watching this situation very closely and monitoring any advice from the Government of Nunavut Department of Health and Health Canada related to recommendations for events during this time,” says a statement on the symposium website.
“At this point, there are no recommendations that impact the planned Nunavut Mining Symposium.”