Panama miners push for restart of First Quantum copper operation

Cobre Panama. (Image courtesy of First Quantum.)

Panama’s chamber of mines (Camipa) is urging the government to allow First Quantum Minerals (TSX: FM) to resume operations at its Cobre Panamá mine, one of the few large copper operations to have come online over the past two years.

In April, the Canadian miner had to idle the $6.5 billion mine, which is also the biggest single private sector investment in Panama’s history, due to the rapid spread of covid-19.

Cobre Panamá mine suspension is costing First Quantum between $4 million and $6 million per week

Last week, First Quantum’s local subsidiary, Minera Panamá, declared the mine coronavirus-free. “All 196 workers who tested positive for covid-19 have now recovered and been allowed home,” spokesman Manuel Aizpurúa Rojas said in a statement.

“The company has implemented all health protocols set out by the ministry of health [and we] have requested a restart of operations,” he added.

First Quantum said that the mine suspension is costing the company between $4 million and $6 million per week. The figure includes labour contracts as well as other variable and fixed costs that remain suspended.

Panama eased restrictions related to covid-19 on June 1, switching from a total lockdown to a night curfew. It also began reopening the economy, allowing non-metals mining operations to restart, as well as public-sector construction.

Indefinite closure fears

Camipa asked the government to speed up the process that would allow Cobre Panamá copper mine to resume full operations gradually.

“It is completely incomprehensible and even discriminatory to leave the reopening [of the copper mine] to the last minute,” a Camipa spokesperson said.

The organization also condemned some officials’ comments hinting that the group of companies in which First Quantum is included will only be allowed to resume activities when there is a vaccine. “This is equivalent to closing operations indefinitely,” the person added.

Panama’s confirmed cases of coronavirus stand at 28,030, with 547 deaths.

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