Vale has become the latest miner to react to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, saying it has taken the decision to ramp down its Voisey’s Bay nickel mining operation, in Canada, and place it on care and maintenance for a period of four weeks.
The move is a precaution to help protect the health and wellbeing of Nunatsiavut and Innu indigenous communities in Labrador in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said. This is all part of the company’s plans to safeguard its employees, businesses and communities surrounding its operations from the threats posed by the outbreak.
Other miners such as Newmont, Anglo American and Rio Tinto have also reacted to the virus outbreak by either slowing down development projects (Oyu Tolgoi Underground and Quellaveco) or ramping down existing mines (Yanacocha).
Vale said: “Although none of our employees has tested positive for coronavirus at any of Vale’s global operations, Vale has taken this preventive action because of the unique remoteness of that area, with fly-in and fly-out operations, with higher exposure to travel.”
The company said it will work together with the communities and authorities to ensure its operations do not act as a “catalyst to inadvertently introduce the virus in these communities”.
Operations at Vale’s open-pit mine and concentrator at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador began in 2005. This 6,000 t/d facility produces two types of concentrate: nickel-cobalt-copper concentrate and copper concentrate. Nickel concentrate produced at Voisey’s Bay is currently processed at the hydrometallurgical processing facility in Long Harbour, Newfoundland.
While the mining operation will shut down, the Long Harbour Processing Plant (LHPP) will continue to operate, Vale said. Nickel and cobalt production should not be affected given the availability of stockpiled concentrates to feed the LHPP well past the four-week care and maintenance period, but copper concentrate production at site will be reduced proportionally in line with the period of the mine stoppage (Voisey’s Bay produced 25,000 t of copper concentrate in 2019), it said. The decision also impacts on the Voisey’s Bay Mine Expansion project, which is currently underway to transition to underground operations.
Vale also said that, due to travel and equipment transportation restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is revisiting its plans for the Mozambique coal processing plants stoppage. The halting of operations was previously expected to start in the June quarter of this year, with a new date under evaluation. This could ultimately affect coal production guidance for 2020, it said.
Due to the outbreak, the great majority of Vale’s and third-party employees based in its corporate offices are, from today, working from home. “The measure aims to safeguard our employees, reducing the number of people in the same workspace and the exposure to public spaces, such as buses, subways and elevators,” it said.