Arctic Canada: Nunavut mining companies confirm no COVID-19 cases, as concerns rise

A file photo of heavy equipment at a Baffinland mine. Mayor Harry Towtongie said the hamlet is prepared if suspected or confirmed cases are discovered: the student hall will be used as a quarantine site if necessary. (Baffinland)
There are no suspected or confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, at the Meliadine Mine outside of Rankin Inlet, says the hamlet’s mayor.

“The little information that I got from people in the mine … is that they had different illnesses but nothing about coronavirus,” Harry Towtongie told CBC News from Rankin Inlet.

CBC contacted Towtongie after receiving a number of messages from Nunavummiut concerned about potential cases at the territory’s mining operations.

Towtongie said the hamlet is prepared if suspected or confirmed cases are discovered: the student hall will be used as a quarantine site if necessary.

“We are doing our darn best and everybody’s trying to do their part and staying home and not visiting and not gathering,” said Towtongie.

There have been no suspected or confirmed cases at any of Agnico Eagle’s mines, the mining company said in a new release March 24.

But operations at both Meliadine and Meadowbank mines will be reduced, the release said.

Nunavut staff, who were sent home from the mine sites March 19, will continue to be paid through April 13, Agnico Eagle said.

“Existing ore stockpiles at Meliadine are sufficient to support milling activity for approximately 40 days,” said the release.

Last week the company faced a roadblock on its road to the Kivalliq mine site from concerned locals.

“I went there and I talked to the people blocking the road. It was a good conversation with them, they seemed to understand what was going on,” Towtongie said.

The concerned citizens agreed to take down the blockade after being told about the preventative measures implemented by Agnico Eagle, and approved by Nuanvut’s chief medical health officer, said Towtongie.

Baffinland introduces ferry service

Meanwhile Baffinland, which operates Nunavut’s only other operational mine, told CBC that it has increased its preventative measures as well.

“One of the new measures we’ve introduced is a ferry service so that employees don’t have to travel through any airports,” said Udloriak Hanson, the company’s spokesperson.

That includes flights from western Canada with southern employees, added Hanson.

“Same thing — nobody getting off the plane or getting on the pane.”

Baffinland also has no confirmed or suspected cases, Hanson said.

Both Baffinland and Agnico Eagle have sent their Nunavut-based employees home, with pay, in response to the pandemic.

Related stories from around the North:

Arctic: Roundup of COVID-19 responses around the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: COVID-19 could hit Nunavut harder than elsewhere, says Canadian territory’s top doctor, CBC News

Finland: Finns continue with ski holiday plans despite travel advisory, Yle News

Greenland: COVID-19: Arctic science expedition postpones flight campaign after trainee tests positive for virus, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Arctic oil plans in Norway and Russia disrupted amid COVID-19 crisis, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Coronavirus: Russia hints it might close its border with Norway, Finland, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Why are Sweden’s politicians taking a different tack for coronavirus?, Radio Sweden

Thomas Rohner, CBC News

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