North

Yukon's Eagle Mine alters worker schedules in response to COVID-19

Yukon's Eagle Gold mine will continue operating through the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers staying on or off site for longer periods of time.

Worker rotations will now be 4 weeks instead of 2, company announced Tuesday

Workers at Victoria Gold's Eagle Mine near Mayo, Yukon, last fall. The mine's workers and contractors — many of them from outside of Yukon — will now be flown to Yukon on special charter flights and not commercial flights.  (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Yukon's Eagle Gold mine will continue operating through the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers staying on- or off-site for longer periods of time.

"We've done what we think is appropriate to try and limit the spread of COVID-19," said John McConnell, president of Victoria Gold Corp.

On Tuesday, the company announced it was altering its rotation schedule for mine workers, from a two-week-on/two-week-off schedule to a four-week-on/four-week-off schedule.

The workers — many of them from outside of Yukon — will be flown in on special charter flights and not on commercial flights. 

"So we think this limits the interaction of our employees with the general public, and assures that we continue to operate," McConnell said. 

"We'll have a few pick-up points in British Columbia and Alberta, but you know, more than 50 per cent of our employees are Yukon-based. So you know, a lot of them will be picked up in Whitehorse or drive from Dawson."

'We've done what we think is appropriate to try and limit the spread of COVID-19,' said John McConnell, president of Victoria Gold Corp. (AMP ALISTAIR MAITLAND PHOTOGRAPHY)

The mine, near Mayo, went into production last year and poured its first gold bar in September. There were about 400 workers on site last fall, the company said.

McConnell said workers are being screened for illness or symptoms before they go to the mine site. They fill out a questionnaire and have their temperature taken, he said.

"Hopefully, as test kits for COVID become more and more available, we'll be able to actually get test kits and test people before they go to site — but you know, we're doing the best we can now," he said.

On Sunday, Yukon health officials announced the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory. They also advised against any non-essential travel to or from Yukon. As well, they advised that anybody arriving in Yukon from elsewhere, even within Canada, should self-isolate for 14 days.

'Things do spread through camps very quickly'

The remote mining camp has an on-site primary care clinic and McConnell says there is also an isolation wing for anybody who might come down with symptoms, "or even a bad cold."

"We try and isolate them because these things do spread through camps very quickly," he said.

McConnell says the mine has enough hand sanitizer and gloves on site, and the company is rationing its supply of masks. He hopes to get more supplies when they're available.

The remote Eagle Mine site in 2018. (Victoria Gold)

The mine is also restricting and controlling workers' access to all Yukon communities, the company announced on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the North, mines have sent workers home indefinitely or suspended operations. McConnell is determined to keep his mine operating, and he says workers at the Eagle Mine are fully on-board.

"Our employees have been fantastic," McConnell said. "They've all been, you know, 'Hey, I'm happy to stay four weeks, I'll stay six months if it means getting this mine up and running properly, and assuring I have a long-term job.'"

With files from Mike Rudyk

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