Santiago — The Chilean government has urged the mining industry to step up measures to protect staff from the Covid-19 pandemic as the South American country suffers a massive surge in new cases.
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"The call is for all companies to step up precautionary measures to optimize mine operations and processes because we can't forget that mining is the engine which powers not only the Chilean economy but also creates high-quality jobs for our people," Deputy Mining Minister Edgar Blanco said.
The number of new coronavirus cases reported daily in Chile, the world's largest producer of copper, has soared to over 8,000, up from 2,000 last December, putting the country's health service under unprecedented strain.
Last month the government reintroduced lockdown restrictions across the whole of Santiago, Concepcion and other major cities in a bid to slow the rate of contagion, while regional elections planned for next weekend have been delayed until mid-May.
Despite the introduction of strict sanitary measures last year, including the reductions in the number of on-site personnel and the cancellation of auxiliary works, Chile's mining industry produced almost 5.8 million mt of copper, little changed from 2020.
Speaking to representatives from Anglo American, Antofagasta Minerals and Teck, among other copper producers, Blanco urged them to restrict the number of special travel permits they grant to employees and contractors.
"These permits should be strictly necessary. They will only be allowed for people who carry out tasks necessary for the mines to continue operating," the official said.
Permits should only be granted to workers who cannot work remotely, such as operational and maintenance staff or those working in logistics, safety and sanitation, the official said.