Mining in Ecuador halted as govt issues orders to stay home

Cascabel copper-gold project. (Image courtesy of SolGold.)

Miners in Ecuador are temporarily halting all activity in the country, following the government’s urgent call to stay home.

After infecting a majority of Latin American nations, the novel coronavirus has now reached Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with four people testing positive.

Australia’s SolGold (LON, TSX:SOLG), which is developing the Cascabel copper-gold project, believed to be one of the largest copper-gold porphyry systems ever discovered, said on Wednesday it had reduced operations across the country.

Chief executive officer Nick Mather said the company was actively monitoring employees and will continue to do so for the next two weeks. It also noted that only essential personnel were currently present on sites.

Ecuador’s move comes as the novel coronavirus reached the country’s Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site

Cornerstone Capital Resources (TSX-V: CGP), which holds 22.2% direct and indirect interest in Cascabel, also announced a suspension of activities, but noted certain aspects, including the Alpala prefeasibility study, continued to move forward based on the “substantial” information already gathered from site.

The Ottawa-based company also said exploration at its Miocene project in Chile has also been suspended by farm-in funding partner and operator Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM) to protect employees and contractors.

Earlier this week, Lundin Gold (TSX: LUG) announced it had temporarily suspended operations at its Fruta del Norte gold-silver mine, Ecuador’s largest. 

Junior Adventus Mining Corporation and partner Salazar Resources Limited temporarily suspended last week activities at their Curipamba, Pijili and Santiago projects.

Country manager Alvaro Dueñas said they were also implementing an information plan on personal protection and care for communities around the assets they hold. This includes delivering food and other items such as hand sanitizers to locals.

The Andean nation has attracted a flurry of interest from big miners eager to increase their exposure to copper. The highly conductive metal is in demand for use in renewable energy and electric vehicles, but big, new deposits are rare.

The country has been moving forward with plans to move from an explorer hotspot to mining exporter. Its only large-scale copper mine shipped its first large cargo in November.

But Ecuador’s oil-led economy has been hit hard over the past few months. The nation is reeling from both the spread of covid-19 while also suffering from the collapse in oil prices in the wake of a dispute over production between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

As of Wednesday morning, Ecuador had the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Latin America.

Prior to recent developments, the South American country expected to attract $3.7 billion in mining investments between 2019 and 2020, up significantly from the $270 million it received in 2018.

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