Gahcho Kué, Diavik diamond mines sending some N.W.T. workers from remote centres home

Gahcho Kué mine is the latest mine in the N.W.T. to announce its measures for COVID-19. Earlier Friday, Diavik announced mine workers from several northern communities are being sent home with pay, to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus to their home communities.

Both mines continue to operate, but are taking steps to prevent potential spread of coronavirus

Lac de Gras surrounds the Diavik mine pit about 300 km northeast of Yellowknife. Workers from 12 remote communities in the N.W.T. are being sent home on paid leave as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Fifteen Gahcho Kué diamond mine employees and contractors from primarily fly-in, small communities are being sent home and are asked to stay home, according to the De Beers Group, which operates the mine.

In a news release sent Friday afternoon, De Beers said this move is a part of its efforts to minimize the chance of transmitting COVID-19 to remote communities in the Northwest Territories.

The announcement comes as other mining companies announced measures to address COVID-19 in their remote camps.

The 15 workers are asked to stay home "for the next month," and are from the N.W.T. communities of Whati, Gameti, Lutsel K'e, Jean Marie River, Tulita, Fort Good Hope, Deline and Fort McPherson, states the news release.

When asked whether the employees were going to be paid, spokesperson Terry Kruger didn't answer the question and instead provided this emailed statement: "The well-being of our employees is of paramount importance, especially during this time when they will be at home taking care of their families."

The De Beers news release states that since February, it has implemented several other safety measures such as:

  • Restricting access to the mine.
  • Mandatory temperature screening for everyone coming into the mine.
  • Mandatory hand washing for anyone entering the dining room, and changing the dining schedule to reduce the number of people there at any given time.
  • Establishing quarantine areas, more sanitization of high-contact areas, and encouraging people to call in sick from rooms before reporting to the site medic.

The Gahcho Kué mine remains in operation, states the news release.

Diavik sends workers home with pay

Earlier on Friday, the Diavik diamond mine said its workers from several northern communities are being sent home with pay to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus to their home communities.

Workers from Deline, Fort Good Hope, Fort Simpson, Gameti, Jean Marie River, Lutsel K'e, Tulita, Wekweètì, and Whati, all in the Northwest Territories, along with workers from Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, and Kugluktuk in Nunavut will be on paid leave.

The Gahcho Kué mine's main buildings sit beside Kennady Lake. De Beers said sending 15 workers home is a part of its efforts to minimize the chance of transmitting COVID-19 to remote communities in the Northwest Territories. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

"Our first priority is the safety of employees and community members," stated a spokesperson for Diavik Diamond Mine in an email. 

According the spokesperson, Diavik began telling workers about the plan on Wednesday. The paid leave applies to approximately 50 employees, and they are "not required to access personal/vacation leave."

"It applies until April 14, when Diavik will reassess the situation," the spokesperson said.

The mine continues to operate at full capacity.

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut or Yukon as of Friday morning. Small and remote communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are particularly vulnerable to an outbreak of the illness: they often function with little local and immediate medical support — in some cases with no formal clinic or nursing staff at all — and residents in those communities often live in over-crowed housing.

Some communities in the North have asked those from outside to stay away for the sake of keeping their communities safe.

"Other steps we are taking include asking all employees not go to work if they feel unwell or believe they have been exposed to the virus, self isolation for any team members who have travelled overseas, the cancellation of all non-business critical travel to site and health screenings to reduce the possibility of transmission to our sites," the spokesperson said.

The Diavik Diamond mine is about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, and is operated by Rio Tinto.

On Thursday, the Ekati Diamond mine suspended operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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