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From using drones to stockpiling cyanide, miners keep digging amid pandemic

Wed 18th March, 2020 7:43pm
By Anastasia Lyrchikova, Clara Denina  and Melanie Burton
    MOSCOW/LONDON/MELBOURNE, March 18 (Reuters) - From using
drones for field inspections to stockpiling cyanide, miners are
scrambling to maintain output amid the coronavirus pandemic, a
task made trickier in underground mines where social distancing
is nearly impossible.
    The virus has claimed 8,700 lives and infected over 200,000
globally. While miners have faced some outages, due to
government shutdowns in places like Peru and Mongolia, most
production continues.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL8N2BB2NH urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL4N2BA2DU urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL4N2BA43F
    In a defensive step, miners have begun stockpiling fuel,
hydrofluoric acid, lime and other industry staples, including
cyanide, which is used to extract gold from rock. 
    "I'm sure every mine is trying to do the same thing," Clive
Johnson, chief executive of Africa-focused B2Gold Corp  BTO.TO ,
told Reuters.
    Chilean miner Antofagasta Plc  ANTO.L  has start using
drones to inspect tailings dams, which store industry waste
rock. Manual inspections can take days and put engineers in
close contact with each other.
    The coronavirus "is actually providing us a very significant
opportunity to be able to step forward on our use of
technology," Antofagasta CEO Iván Arriagada said.
    Bankers are also using drone footage from mine sites as they
pitch deals to prospective buyers. While such footage might not
help clinch a deal, it helps keep deal momentum alive, one
London-based banker told Reuters.
    The outbreak has begun to surface across the mining
    Kinross Gold Corp  K.TO  has quarantined nearly 900 workers
at its Kupol mine in Russia's Far East after two workers were
hospitalized with suspected coronavirus. Test results are
pending and the mine is still running. urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL8N2B974H
    BHP Group Ltd  BHP.AX , the world's largest miner, said a
vendor who recently visited one of its Australian coal mines has
tested positive for the virus. The company quarantined staff who
interacted with the vendor. None have developed symptoms so far.
    A handful of staff at mines in Chile, Ghana and Burkina Faso
have tested positive for the virus, though they were quarantined
before exposing others, the companies involved said.  
    Miners, like many industries, have cut employee travel and
encouraged frequent handwashing. Barrick Gold Corp  ABX.TO 
checks the temperatures of every mine visitor. Polyus  PLZL.MM ,
Russia's largest gold producer, hands out masks at office
    But public health advice to practice social distancing is
all but impossible in the narrow workspaces of underground
mines, fueling a logistics nightmare for the industry.
    The industry's workforce housing standards should also
improve, critics say. In South Africa, some mine staff live in
employer-provided hostels and cramped, one-room flats that could
encourage the virus to spread. 
    "The scenario that (miners) are all preparing for is, what
if someone turns up on the mine camp, presents symptoms and
tests positive?" said commodity analyst Lachlan Shaw at National
Australian Bank.    
    Gem Diamonds Ltd  GEMD.L  is splitting its workforce so one
half is not around the other, a step aimed at halting the spread
of the virus. Other miners have hinted they may do the same.
    Newcrest Mining Ltd  NCM.AX , which operates in Australia
and Papua New Guinea, plans to maintain production even if a
"significant" number of workers become infected. It was not
immediately clear how Newcrest plans to achieve the goal.
    As miners focus on their supply chain to ensure output, some
are trying to support end users with no end in sight to the
    Russian diamond miner Alrosa is giving long-time customers
extra time to pay bills, a bid to lift sagging sales of the
precious stones. Alrosa warned it could shutter some operations
because of the virus.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL8N2B576P
    Miners cannot plan for an “apocalypse scenario”, said a
source one of Russia’s main metals companies: “No one knows how
to go and what to do."

 (Additional reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto,  Polina Devitt
in Moscow, Helen Reid in Johannesburg, Zandi Shabalala in
London, Ernest Scheyder in Houston; writing by Ernest Scheyder;
Editing by Amran Abocar)
 ((ernest.scheyder@thomsonreuters.com; Twitter: @ErnestScheyder;
+1-713-210-8512; Reuters Messaging:
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