Africa-focused Gem Diamonds (LON:GEMD) said on Wednesday its iconic Letšeng mine in Lesotho will remain fully operational during a 14-day lockdown that comes into effect from midnight on Thursday.
The new restrictions follow reports accusing the government of the small southern African country of having released “several” people who had tested positive for the coronavirus from quarantine.
They also coincide with Lesotho’s alarming number of covid-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks after high numbers of workers travelled home to South Africa for the Christmas holidays.
According to the latest figures from the National covid-19 Secretariat (Nacosec), Lesotho had 6,241 cases as of Wednesday, up from 2,137 on December 1. The country has a population of about 2 million.
Gem Diamonds noted it will continue to implement measures for the regular testing and protection of all of its mining staff and contractors, as required by law and strict health and safety measures put in place at the beginning of pandemic.
Lesotho’s measures include banning all outbound international travel for Basotho except for those who have visas for the countries they were travelling to, as well as negative covid-19 certificates. Inbound international travel by foreign nationals would also be banned.
Most businesses would be closed, except those considered to be in the essential services category.
Letšeng is the world’s highest dollar per carat kimberlite diamond mine. It is also one of the world’s highest diamond mines, as it is located an average elevation of 3,100 metres (10,000 feet) above sea level.
Unlike Gem Diamonds, Australian rival Lucapa Diamond (ASX: LOM) decided to halt operations at its Mothae mine.
The Perth-based company said that after discussions with the Lesotho government, which holds a 30% stake in the diamond mine, it had decided to temporarily suspend operations.
“Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of our valued teams on site,” managing director Stephen Wetherall said in the statement.
He noted the suspension was expected to be temporary as it was a health and safety decision, not a market-dictated one.
“Lucapa continues to engage with its financiers through this period as the diamond market continues its positive trajectory,” Wetherall said.
Mothae, which began operations in December 2018, is located only 5km from Gem Diamonds’ Letšeng.