Ok Tedi Mining has halted operations in Tabubil, Papua New Guinea after the mining town recorded seven positive COVID-19 cases.
The cases occurred despite Ok Tedi shutting down all charter flights in and out of Tabubil on July 28 to protect employees against an escalation of positive cases in the capital city of Port Moresby.
The company identified a person who travelled from Port Moresby to Kiunga on July 31 on a commercial airline as the source of the transmission.
Unfortunately, one of the positive cases in the town of Tabubil is an Ok Tedi employee, who caught the virus after having close contact with the Kiunga traveller.
The employee has been travelling to and from work on buses, leading Ok Tedi to believe that “likely more people have been infected, giving rise to an unacceptable risk of accelerated transmission within the Ok Tedi workforce”.
Ok Tedi intends to suspend operations for at least two weeks to limit further transmission and allow for contact tracing, isolation and testing.
Of the seven people, only one exhibited flu like systems when tested but all seven were in isolation at the Tabubil hospital.
Ok Tedi managing director and chief executive Musje Werror said the company’s workforce and the Tabubil community had “responded positively” to the additional control measures.
Werror said that the mine had been performing strongly this year so the company was well positioned to withstand the financial impact of the shutdown, expected to be $PGK100 million ($39.8 million).
The financial impact is anticipated to have a broader economic impact due to Ok Tedi’s role in generating a significant amount of foreign currency inflow into Papua New Guinea. The mine suspension is likely to reduce United States dollar receipts by approximately $US40 million.
“Operations will resume when we are confident our workforce will not be infected with COVID-19 whilst going about their normal day to day work,” Werror said.
“At this stage, we are hopeful resumption of operations will occur at the conclusion of the 14-day lockdown and quarantine period.
“However, we cannot be certain until results from further contact tracing are available.”