Whitehorse Daily Star

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President Brad Thrall and Chief operating officer Mark Aryanto

Territory’s mines adapt to COVID-19 realities

The Yukon’s three mines have been adapting since the word came down that they’d have to begin self-isolating employees returning to the Yukon at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Chuck Tobin on November 24, 2020

The Yukon’s three mines have been adapting since the word came down that they’d have to begin self-isolating employees returning to the Yukon at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And they continue to adapt, senior executives told the 2020 Yukon Geoscience Forum in a Monday panel discussion regarding the challenges they faced, the challenges they continue to face and how they’re addressing them.

Victoria Gold, for instance, has been able to have a plan approved by the minister of Health and the chief medical officer of health that allows the company to self-isolate returning employees at the mine site.

Chief operating officer Mark Aryanto of Victoria Gold said the returning employees are put up in a dorm at the Eagle Gold Mine.

They have no contact with other employees and are not allowed to visit common areas like the kitchen or exercise facility.

When they go to work while they’re in self-isolation, the social distancing requirements are strictly adhered to, he explained.

Aryanto said striving to have a plan to self-isolate at the site wasn’t driven by financial considerations but more for the health of their employees.

In response to COVID-19, the Eagle Gold Mine lengthened the shift rotation from two weeks in and two weeks out to four in and four out.

If somebody returning to work also has to self-isolate for two weeks before returning to their four-week rotation at the mine site, that places stress on family life, he said.

Aryanto said the decision early on by Victoria Gold to have at least 50 per cent of its workforce coming from the Yukon has paid off during the pandemic.

Between the 400 Victoria Gold employees and 200 employees working for contractors, there are about 270 on the mine site on any given day, he said.

Aryanto said they haven’t had a case of COVID-19. While he can’t say with certainty that will continue, the company has undertaken a number of measures to reduce the risk that have been working so far.

The geoscience forum also heard how Minto Explorations has handled the situation at the Minto Mine, and how Alexco Resource Corp. is managing matters as it begins to resume production at its Keno Hill operations.

They are doing things like ensuring only two people at each table for meals, to ensure the two-metre separation.

Masks are mandatory when riding in vehicles.

There are regular checks by onsite medical staff. There are checks before travel.

They are additional checks before employees walk onto the mine site.

Minto Explorations is investigating the possibility of having rapid testing methods onsite for employees who are symptomatic.

Sebastien Tolgyesi, the general manager of the Minto Mine, said they too will be seeking permission to have employees self-isolate at the mine site, as they do have the facilities to maintain separation.

On a given day, he said, there are about 90 Minto employees onsite along with 30 or 35 employees working for their heavy equipment contractor.

Most of the employees are from the Yukon and B.C., he said.

When they got the call last spring informing them about the requirement to self-isolate, Tolgyesi said, they were in the middle of a crew change and everything was suddenly up in the air.

“We had to shut the mill down for two weeks by time the time we turned around and got ourselves organized,” he said.

Tolgyesi said they continue to self-isolate for two weeks all employees who are not from the Yukon.

President Brad Thrall of Alexco Resource Corp. told the geoscience forum Alexco did not make the decision to go back into production at Keno Hill until June, after several years of being in temporary closure.

The company, therefore, did not have to face the sudden and serious adjustments faced by Minto and Victoria Gold, he explained.

Thrall said they are currently working to get back in production and expect to be producing their first silver concentrate by the end of the year.

There are 120 Alexco employees onsite on any given day, along with 15 to 20 employees working for contractors, he explained, adding 90 per cent of the employees are from the Yukon and B.C.

Thrall said Alexco is also on a four-week rotation.

Employees from Mayo who enjoyed going home everyday at the end of their shift are no longer allowed to, and instead, have to spend the four weeks in camp.

“It’s a real impact for the employees and their families,” he said.

Thrall said the company has also implemented four staggered starts to shifts as a means of maintaining social distancing – 5:30 a.m., 6:00, 6:30 and 7 a.m.

Comments (2)

Up 2 Down 3

Elizabeth Olson on Nov 26, 2020 at 11:45 pm

What about the shuttle bus drivers that take them to the mine after they get off the plane?
I think they're more at risk than anybody.

Up 8 Down 5

JC on Nov 24, 2020 at 7:20 pm

And just how much longer can this go on? Wouldn't it be just better to give each employer a test when he/she lands in Whitehorse? That only takes 3 days for the results. If the test is positive, the employer can go back to the mine site an get on with the job.

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