COVID-19 hits Papua New Guinea’s mining sector


COVID-19 has reached Papua New Guinea’s mining sector, with its two major mines announcing cases. Meanwhile, new measures are being introduced in response to growing numbers of infections.

Prime Minister Marape addressing the nation after an increase in COVID-19 cases. Credit: Prime Minister Office & NEC

Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) last week announced the temporary closure of PNG’s largest mine, in Western Province, when seven cases were reported at its copper mine on one day.

The company has announced a 14-day suspension of operations. It will use the time to implement contact tracing, testing and isolation procedures with the purpose of limiting any further spread of the virus and resuming safe operations as soon as possible.

Musje Werror

Ok Tedi’s Musje Werror. Credit: OTML

OTML’s Managing Director/CEO, Musje Werror, said in a statement that the state-owned company was well positioned to withstand the financial impact of the suspension, estimated to cost about K100 million.

‘Operations will resume when we are confident our workforce will not be infected with COVID-19 virus whilst going about their normal day to day work,’ Werror said.

Meanwhile, Newcrest Mining has reported a first case of COVID-19 at its Lihir Island gold mine in New Ireland Province, although the mine’s operations have reportedly not been affected.

‘Newcrest confirms that it is managing a COVID-19 case in its isolation and treatment facility at Lihir Island,’ said a company statement issued earlier today. ‘The individual, a PNG national, flew into Lihir from Port Moresby on 30 July and as per our protocol was isolated along with the other arrivals in a designated isolation camp while testing was conducted and the 14 day isolation period completed.’

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More pandemic rules

COVID-19 case numbers rose to 214 over the weekend, with PNG’s capital Port Moresby coming to the end of its 14-day ‘lockdown’ period.

Since the ‘lockdown’, National Pandemic Controller David Manning has released further measures to help curb the spread of the virus.

These include greater controls on travel between PNG’s provinces and Port Moresby, announced last Thursday. Domestic travel by air can now only occur with approval by the Controller, although ‘essential business travel’ is still permitted.

‘No domestic flight(s) may occur from one province in PNG to another province in PNG except for cargo flights with no passengers; and medivac flights, unless approved by the Controller or his delegate,’ Dr Paison Dakulala, Deputy Controller, National Pandemic Response, said in a statement.

From today, air passengers must have an approval to travel, to be facilitated by their airline operator.

Measures introduced in Port Moresby include a nightly curfew from 10pm to 5am, the closure of nightclubs, venues only permitted to serve alcohol with food and bans on take away alcohol on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There have also been bans on provincial and national church gatherings, crusades, conventions and outreach programs.

How long?

It is not clear how long these measures will be in place, in spite of Port Moresby’s 14-day period due to end this week.

In a statement, David Manning said they would apply ‘until the end of the declaration of a pandemic under the Act, or as varied or revoked by the Controller.’

On 6 August, the Governor-General Bob Dadae used the Defence Act to request that the PNG military assist the police to maintain order during the pandemic restrictions.

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