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Brazil's Petrobras adapts work rules after employee hit by COVID-19

Highlights

Worker traveled abroad on holiday

Diagnosed before return to work

Petrobras adapts measures to avert infections

Rio de Janeiro — Brazilian state-led oil company Petrobras joined many companies around the world in adopting measures to avoid further dissemination of COVID-19 after an employee was infected by the virus while on holiday abroad, the company confirmed Friday.

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The employee, who worked at the company's iconic downtown Rio de Janeiro headquarters, was diagnosed with the virus before returning to work, Petrobras said. "The employee wasn't in the company's installations after being infected," Petrobras said. The worker "is in good health, at home and being monitored by Petrobras' health teams."

Brazil is the latest country to find itself on the frontlines of the ongoing health crisis, with infections rising in Latin America's largest country by the hour. The country is canceling many large events, with several cities announcing school and business closures to head off the spread of infection that has reached the top levels of government.

President Jair Bolsonaro announced earlier Friday that he tested negative for the virus. Bolsonaro's press secretary, who accompanied the president on a visit to the US that included meetings with President Donald Trump, tested positive for the virus upon his return to Brazil.

Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, who also accompanied Bolsonaro on his US trip, also tested negative for the coronavirus, according to the ministry.

Recall from China

Petrobras acted quickly with Brazilian officials last month to repatriate citizens caught in China's crackdown on the disease, which included dramatic quarantines of several major cities. Petrobras called back early a team of 37 employees working on projects in China, primarily construction of floating production, storage and offloading vessels, or FPSOs, that will be installed at subsalt fields over the next two-three years.

"None of them showed symptoms after a quarantine period," Petrobras said.

The company also joined global corporations in moving to stem transmission of the virus among workers, including suspending international travel and training programs, Petrobras said. Workers returning from overseas assignments or vacations will also work out of their home offices for a period of at least seven days, Petrobras said.

Petrobras also suspended events and meetings of more than 20 people, with most of the encounters now being handled online, the company said.

Efforts are being made to also limit the impact on production and the isolated world of offshore work, which would face the same difficult conditions seen onboard cruise ships affected by the virus in recent weeks. Workers passing through airports on the way to or from offshore production units, meanwhile, are having temperatures taken before departure, Petrobras said.

The virus has so far had little effect on Petrobras' operations, with the company recently setting a record for daily output from the Buzios Field on Tuesday. Petrobras, however, plans to carry out a massive maintenance program in the first half of the year that could be affected by an expansion of the disease in Brazil.

Petrobras plans to shutter all of the 30-plus FPSOs in the subsalt region for 15-20 days, including the newest vessels installed over the past 18 months, to improve efficiency and check the integrity of subsea systems. In addition to the extreme marine environment, deep waters and high pressures associated with subsalt output, the frontier's reservoirs also often contain high levels of corrosive contaminants such as carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid.

The maintenance work is expected to dramatically lower output in the first half of the year before rising gradually in the last six months, Petrobras officials say. The company expects to pump 2.7 million b/d in 2020, the same level of output as seen in 2019.