Sudbury

Extra measures in place for international conference due to COVID-19 concerns, PDAC says

It's just a few more days until thousands of people will descend on Toronto for an international mineral exploration conference. But this year there's an added health concern: the COVID-19 virus. The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference usually sees attendance of 25,000 people from 130 countries.

Estimated 25,000 attendees from 100+ countries at four day mineral exploration event in Toronto

Twenty-five delegates from the Quebec Cree communities attended the PDAC, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference held earlier this month in Toronto. (Facebook/Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada)

Geologist Bob Komarechka of Sudbury has been attending the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference for more than 20 years.

The four-day conference in Toronto provides opportunities for networking, deal-making, and the renewing of old acquaintances at the mineral exploration event.

However his year Komarachka is heading to the event with some concerns. He's worried about the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"I don't think it's something that should result in a major problem, but it is a lot of people coming from all over the world," he said

Attendance at the 2019 conference was 25,843, with participants traveling from 132 countries.

PDAC is working with Toronto Public Health to monitor the situation, says Lisa McDonald, executive director of the conference.

Health, safety of attendees 'a top priority'

"Certainly the health and safety of our attendees is a top priority for us," she said, adding that they've put extra measures in place to help alleviate any concerns.

"People can expect to see increased cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces. We're working very closely with our venue partners to ensure that that takes place. There will be additional hand sanitizer available on site."

That extra cleaning will include high-volume touch points, like registration touch screens, surfaces, handrails, and door handles. There will also be signs posted reminding attendees about hygiene recommendations.

McDonald says at this time there are no programming changes.

PDAC has posted a health and safety warning on its website about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus and there has been communication to all delegates.

Some cancellations mostly from travel-restricted countries

McDonald says cancellations have been minimal, and are mostly from delegates who live in countries now under travel-restrictions.

"Our attendance is about 75 per cent Canadian and 25 per cent international so our numbers remain very strong," she said.

CBC reached out to mining company Vale, which usually sends a delegation from Sudbury to the conference. A spokesperson says approximately 24 employees still plan on attending PDAC this year.

Meanwhile, Komarechka says he'd heard rumblings of concern from other delegates, some of whom decided to cancel their plans to go to the event.

"I'm committed, so I'm going," he said, although admits he might behave differently than in previous years.

"I'm probably not going to be going out to a lot of certain events that might be too congested because [PDAC has] a lot of hospitality suites in the evening that can be quite intense in terms of the number of people."

Komarechka also plans on taking a face mask with him, but hasn't decided if he'll wear it.

"If you put one on there's always the suggestion that you're ill and you may have the virus or something and people might not want to be as familiar with you," he said.

More than 25,000 people from 130 countries attend the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto. It's a chance to make new connections and catch up with friends and acquaintances in the mineral exploration industry. (Facebook/Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC))

In previous years, Komarachka and other delegates have joked about returning home with what they call the 'PDAC cold'.

"Quite often after you come back you usually get a little cold, but nothing serious," he said.

"I don't think I'm going to be shaking many hands," he said of this year's conference.

McDonald says it will be a personal decision how each delegate will interact with others at the conference.

"I'm quite sure that people will come up with creative ways to greet their colleagues and their new contacts if they feel uncomfortable shaking hands," she said.

Guidance from public health partners

McDonald says PDAC will continue to monitor the situation and will adapt plans accordingly.

Conference organizers are working with Toronto Public Health, which is offering advice with guidance and recommendations from other public partners, like Public Health Ontario and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In an email to CBC news the Toronto Public Health states: "The COVID-19 virus is not circulating locally, however given the global spread, we are actively working with our city [Toronto] and health partners to plan for potential of local spread. We continue to carefully monitor this situation and encourage residents to stay informed by regularly reviewing credible information sources. This includes reviewing travel notices before international travel."

Recommended information sources include the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 16 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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