Quebec, Ontario miners respond to non-essential business bans

The governments of Canadian provinces Ontario and Quebec have ordered non-essential businesses to shutter as efforts to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus escalate.

First Quantum Minerals says several Cobre Pnama workers have tested positive for Covid-19

First Quantum Minerals says several Cobre Pnama workers have tested positive for Covid-19

Quebec-based Champion Iron says it will scale down iron ore operations at Bloom Lake following a directive from the Quebec government requiring mining activities to be reduced to a minimum as of March 24 through at least April 13.

With C$187.5 million in cash and short-term investments as of the quarter ended December 31, the company said it had substantial liquidity to withstand the period of reduced operations.

It has suspended capex supporting the Phase II expansion and will now only communicate its plans later.

The Ontario government has also asked non-essential businesses, excluding mines, to shutter for at least two weeks to help reduce the spread of the virus. While mines are not included under the order, many operators have deferred exploration plans, reduced operations to a minimum, or suspended operations altogether.

In response, Iamgold said it was placing the Westwood mine on care and maintenance leaving only a few critical staff to oversee an orderly shutdown. The company's Toronto and Longueuil offices are now closed with staff working from home.

Agnico Eagle Mines said it had directed all Quebec operations in the Abitibi region, including the LaRonde Complex, the Goldex mine and the Canadian Malartic mine (50%) to minimise operations while it was confirming whether a total shutdown of operations was required. Should it be the case, it would move all operations to care and maintenance until April 13.

Yamana Gold also confirmed it was suspending all non-essential business until that date, confirming mining had indeed been listed as one of the priority services and activities with minimised activities.

Alamos Gold said Tuesday it was suspending Island Gold mining in Ontario for 14 days, given the "unique set-up of the operation" with both a large local community and fly-in, fly-out workforce.

Alamos said to date, operations at Young-Davidson and Mulatos had not been impacted by the virus. The company remains on track to achieve consolidated first-quarter production of 105,000-110,000oz gold.

Balmoral Resources said it had now suspended all Quebec and Ontario exploration activities. To date Balmoral and Wallbridge Mining Company, which share the Fenelon exploration camp in Quebec, have reported no suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19. The companies have had in place virus protocols to protect the workforce currently in camp.

Eldorado Gold also agreed to minimise operations at Lamaque in Quebec. The company has received approval from the Quebec environment ministry to expand underground production from the Triangle deposit from 1,800-2,650t/d, once operations resume.

Maple Gold Mines said management had agreed to a 50% pay cut as it prepared for hibernation. It did not mobilise more drill rigs to the Douay project as planned, given the evolving Covid-19 pandemic. It will suspend drilling with the remaining rig shortly.

ALS laboratories in Val d'Or will also be suspending operations, with Maple to hold on to the remaining samples until laboratory operations resume.

Doré Copper Mining also announced its suspension of the Cedar Bay drilling programme near Chibougamau, Quebec.

International impact

First Quantum Minerals reported Tuesday several members of the Cobre Panama workforce tested positive for Covid-19. The affected personnel were being treated in the public healthcare system.

The Panama government clarified on Friday Cobre Panama was allowed to continue operations under strict protocols which would require a reduced labour force operating on 12-hour shifts.

First Quantum said it had not experienced any significant disruption to sales, supply chains and product shipments since the onset of the pandemic and Cobre Panama continued to ramp up towards the unchanged guidance at 285,000-310,000 tonnes copper.

However, the pace of the ramp-up would be slightly slower than planned, it said, and would impact first-half production. At this stage, the company expects the annual production target can still be met with better than planned second-half production levels.

The restart of operations at Ravensthorpe in Western Australia has continued with the first shipment expected by June. At Las Cruces in Spain, the focus is on mining out the remaining in-pit ore which is progressing to plan. All other operations are operating normally.

As part of its immediate cost reduction efforts First Quantum has implemented a temporary salary reduction of 20% for certain senior staff including the CEO. Shares (FM:TSX) rebounded more than 40% on Tuesday to C$7.02.

USA-based Hecla Mining announced it was suspending Casa Berardi operations in Quebec until April 13 in compliance with government orders. The mine will see limited operations to protect the facilities and environment while operations are suspended.

Meanwhile, mid-tier gold producer Aura Minerals said it had shelved IPO plans and a listing in Brazil amid the Covid-19 impact. It would reassess market conditions in the second half of the year.

British Columbia, Golden Triangle-focused Tudor Gold said it was fully cashed up and ready to execute the summer drill programme. The company plans to drill up to 20,000m from seven-eight platforms with four diamond rigs. "We are very fortunate to have a strong balance sheet amidst the volatile market created by Covid-19," said CEO Walter Storm.


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