Thunder Bay

Mining operations in northwestern Ontario change production due to COVID-19

One of the largest industries in northwestern Ontario has made some changes to its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some mines in the region are temporarily shutting down

Musselwhite Mine in northwestern Ontario is partially shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Goldcorp)

One of the largest industries in northwestern Ontario has made some changes to its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province included mining as one of the essential businesses that could remain open in Ontario, while others are to be closed until early April.

The most remote mine in the northwest, Musselwhite, has shut down operations. The mine's owner, Newmont, said part of the operation is now temporarily closed, and staff are being brought home this week. Some essential staff will remain on site though, including infrastructure and environmental monitoring.

Musselwhite is located about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, and its remote location requires employees to fly in and out of the operation.

The other shuttered operation, at this time, is New Gold near Rainy River. The mine, one of the newest to open in the region, shut down for two weeks, effective March 20.

New Gold said the majority of its staff, about 70 per cent, live in the mine's immediate area, and its close proximity to the United States means staff often go across the border. The two-week shutdown is slated to end in early April.

Other mining companies said in media releases that because the province declared them as an essential service, they will remain open.

Lac des Iles, north of Thunder Bay, said it will continue to operate to "contribute to local economies" and "sustain livelihoods."

Barrick's Hemlo operations, between Marathon and Manitouwadge, are open, but the company said it is running its cages to the underground operations with only a few employees at a time, and it is running the cage more often. Shift start times have also been staggered to alleviate congestion.

In Red Lake, Mayor Fred Mota said the fly-in/fly-out component for mine workers has stopped, although employees are still driving into Red Lake for work.

Newmont, the owner of the Red Lake mines, said it is also cancelling all travel for non-essential workers, suppliers and visitors, and is also establishing screening for all entry points leading to the mine site.

All of the mining companies say they have additional cleaning programs in place, and are encouraging staff to stay home, if they can.

The only confirmed case of COVID-19 in northwestern Ontario is in Fort Frances.