Manitoba Hydro pulls hundreds of workers, suspends travel to and from Keeyask project

Manitoba Hydro is scaling back its workforce and suspending travel at the Keeyask project site in northern Manitoba, in fear of spreading the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Normally 1,300 workers on-site; about 600 volunteered to stay, according to Hydro

Construction of the Keeyask generating station will continue with less than half the usual complement of workers, as part of measures intended to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Manitoba Hydro)

Manitoba Hydro is scaling back its workforce and suspending travel to and from the Keeyask project site in northern Manitoba, in fear of spreading the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"These are extraordinary times and we are making this decision in the interest of public health and the best interests of our customers, employees, contractors and neighbouring communities," said Manitoba Hydro president Jay Grewal in a statement Thursday.

"These measures are temporary in nature and will be re-assessed based on guidance we receive from Manitoba Health officials in a few weeks." 

By Sunday, the travel suspension will be in place, and personnel will have left the site, the Crown corporation said in its release.

The measures are expected to last between four and eight weeks, but Hydro says the end date will depend on what is advised by Manitoba public health officials.

Roughly 1,300 people are usually on-site, but the decrease in staff means less than half that amount is sticking around to continue work on construction of the 695-megawatt hydroelectric generating station.

The 600 employees and contractors who volunteered to stay on-site have other measures to follow, Hydro said, including practising good personal hygiene and social distancing. Gym classes and intramurals have been suspended, the on-site theatre is closed, and the meal hall is providing solely take-out meals.

The entire facility has upped its disinfecting regimen over the last three weeks, making sure to clean things such as doorknobs, push bars and different surfaces in the dining hall, Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an email Wednesday.

"We have had a pandemic plan in place for Keeyask prior to COVID-19, and it was activated last week," Owen said.

The pandemic plan is based on recommendations made by Manitoba Health, Health Canada and the World Health Organization, Owen added.

Anyone with symptoms of an illness must get check by the nurse practitioner, who will decide whether a person needs further testing off-site. If a person does need testing, they will be isolated transferred off-site, Hydro said.

Prior to Thursday's announcement, Owen said five people on-site were referred for further testing, with each person being flown out of the site individually and in isolation.

As of Wednesday, there had been no positive cases of COVID-19 at the site, he said.

With files from Stephen Ripley