Ecuador says operation of its two largest mines is minimized due to coronavirus emergency

QUITO, Mar 22 (Reuters) – Ecuador said on Sunday that its largest gold and copper mines reduced their operation to a minimum and will reduce the number of workers, at a time when the Andean country registers a rapid growth in infections due to the coronavirus and the death toll doubled in one day.

The Fruta del Norte gold mine, operated by the Canadian Lundin Gold, and the Mirador copper mine, in the hands of the Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan, began exports of its mineral concentrate at the end of the previous year, with which Ecuador was projecting important income for its weak economy.

“What they are doing is operating at the bare minimum, which means that no equipment stops and everything that requires great care in the operation,” deputy mines minister Fernando Benalcázar said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

The official said that at the Fruta del Norte mine, a planned reduction of workers will start from Monday to go from the current 1,080 to the “essential critic” of between 400 and 500 people working.

“Mirador is in a similar situation. They are with 800 people out of the 2,400 who normally are,” he explained, noting that possible cases of contagion are being studied in workers of contractor companies in both mines.

The government reported Sunday that 257 new cases of contagion were registered, bringing the total number to 789 people and the number of deaths from the virus doubled to 14 in one day.

Ecuador has adopted severe measures to prevent the spread of the virus such as a night curfew, restriction on internal circulation, suspension of international flights and the partial closure of its land border.

The company Lundin Gold in a statement said that in coordination with the Ecuadorian authorities it adopted measures within the mine such as the suspension of the transport of heavy vehicles with supply material and that it entered a period of care and maintenance of its facilities.

“The FDN care and maintenance period will continue until the Government of Ecuador allows transportation services to resume,” he explained in the statement published on his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, Ecuacorriente, a subsidiary of the Chinese consortium that operates Mirador, reported in a statement the temporary suspension of transportation of copper concentrate from the mine to the ports and prevention measures for workers.

The other projects in the advanced exploration phase are working normally in their operational part, but those with “exploration plans for these days have not executed,” the deputy minister concluded.

In Ecuador are the Cascabel projects, concessioned to Australia’s Solgold, one of the largest in the world, according to authorities, and the Llurimagua project, which will be operated by Ecuadorian state miners Enami and Chile’s Codelco.

(Report by Alexandra Valencia, Edited by Juana Casas)