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LatAm miners restarting operations as lockdowns ease

Bnamericas Published: Friday, May 15, 2020

Mining companies in Latin America are preparing to resume operations en masse as governments ease coronavirus lockdown measures.

Peru and Mexico are among the major mining countries on the verge of large-scale restarts as the governments seek to reopen their economies after pandemic-related suspensions.

A number of smaller countries are also lifting restrictions on mining this month.

Rising coronavirus cases saw the vast bulk of Latin American countries impose lockdown measures in March, but approaches to mining have been very different.

Chile, Ecuador and Colombia allowed mining to continue throughout the lockdowns, while Brazil and Argentina granted the sector essential status in March and April, respectively, following brief suspensions.

The lifting of restrictions on mining comes despite growing COVID-19 deaths in Latin America, with Brazil the worst affected at over 14,000, followed by 4,500 in Mexico.

Peru and Ecuador have each registered more than 2,000 deaths from the virus.

PERU

A phased restart of suspended mining operations has begun in Peru, with large operations the first to resume production.

The move follows a May 3 decree setting out guidelines to progressively resume economic activities in the country.

Five of 17 large-scale mining companies had received authorization to restart operations as of May 13 after complying with government protocols, Pablo de La Flor, executive director of the mining, oil and energy society (SNMPE) told BNamericas.

Approval for the remaining 12 was expected to follow within days, he added.

The schedule to reactivate medium and small-scale mining has not been established, but this is expected over the short term, according to de La Flor.

Some mining operations have continued with essential personnel in Peru during the lockdown.

MEXICO

Mining companies are planning a mass restart in Mexico from Monday (May 18) after the sector secured ‘essential status’.

A phased lifting of lockdown measures announced on May 13 allows mining operations to fully resume from June 1 following a preparation period in which protocols set out by the health ministry are implemented.

But the bulk of miners are planning swift restarts beginning Monday under rules allowing essential and non-essential activities to resume in areas with no confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Nearly all mining operations in Mexico were halted at the start of April to comply with the lockdown.

A small number of Mexican firms, including Industrias Peñoles and its Fresnillo precious metals unit are believed to have secured an exemption allowing operations to continue, although the companies have not confirmed this.

BOLIVIA

Pan American Silver confirmed it is restarting operations at its San Vicente mine in Bolivia after the government authorized a resumption of mining activities from May 7.

PANAMA

Panama has outlined a phased restart of activities.

Non-metallic mining will resume in the second of six phases, while the Cobre Panamá copper-gold mine is covered by a separate restart agreement set out by the health ministry, the mine’s corporate communication manager Isabel Dalence told BNamericas.

Owner First Quantum Minerals is aiming to restart operations in this month, but signaled the suspension could continue to mid-July. A number of Cobre Panamá workers have died after testing positive for coronavirus.

HONDURAS

Lockdown measures in place in some Honduran municipalities are due to end on May 17 – although a last-minute extension cannot be ruled out.

While some Honduran mines were deemed essential and allowed to continue, Aura Minerals was forced to halt production at its San Andrés gold mine, which the company said is expected to have a material impact on its H1 financial performance.

NICARAGUA

While mining companies in Nicaragua have been allowed to continue operating, Calibre Mining suspended production in March to protect workers and communities from the virus.

The company expects to resume mining at its Limón and Libertad gold mines this month, COO Darren Hall told a Q1 earnings call.

 

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