A delegation of mayors met with the mining commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Chile's lower house, to review the impact of COVID-19, and the dramatic increase in cases in the north in recent weeks.
State-owned copper miner Codelco, has throttled back its northern operations, suspending its Chuquicamata smelting operation and development work on its multi-billion structural projects. Unions have also been pushing for mine stoppages to protect workers and their families.
In May, Marco Riveros, EVP of state copper agency Cochilco, said COVID-19 would result in 200,000 tonnes of lost copper production, but that figure will ultimately be much higher.
"The national and regional authorities have been short-sighted. The quarantines were late and have had no effect. What is more, 45% of COVID-19 cases are from mining and that is very worrying because, in addition, that was said at the time. Here there are lives to take care of and for that reason the mining must stop to its minimum expression," said Daniel Agusto, major of Calama, reported local press.
Cristian Tapia, mayor of Vallenar, informed the commission that in the province of Huasco, 90% of people who had contracted COVID-19 come from the mining sector. "When [the mining companies] say there is a low percentage [of contagion] in mining, families, friends and related companies are certainly not counted. It is necessary to lower production to a minimum," he said.
Codelco CEO Octavio Araneda said this would be "catastrophic" for the industry. "We are doing everything possible to take care of our people who keep the operation going. What motivates us is that, after the pandemic, every peso we generate today will help to raise our country tomorrow," he said, reported El Mercurio.
Mining in Chile has largely continued throughout the pandemic although with most mines operating with a reduced contingent of workers and contractors, and extended shift rotations.
Copper analysts believe keeping operations running in this way is storing up problems for the future due high grading deposits and skipping on routine maintenance.