Rio Tinto increases safety measures to prevent coronavirus outbreak at Canadian diamond mine

Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (Image courtesy of Rio Tinto).

Rio Tinto (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO) announced this weekend that it is introducing covid-19 testing at its Diavik diamond mine in Canada.

Although most miners at this point, including Rio Tinto itself, have implemented protocols to avoid the spread of the disease at their mine sites, in this particular case the measures are of extreme importance given that Diavik is located in one of the most remote corners of the world — about 2100 kilometres from the North Pole in the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories.

The region occupies an important portion of the country’s northwestern landmass and about 50% of its population is composed of Indigenous peoples who live in remote communities, have limited access to primary health care and rely on aeromedical evacuations for emergency care. However, as of May 10, 2020, the Northwest Territories had only five confirmed cases of covid-19 and none had been registered at Diavik.

Rio Tinto increases precautionary measures to prevent coronavirus outbreak at Canadian diamond mine
Diavik is the mine where the now legendary Foxfire diamond, a 187.6-carat rare stone and the largest uncut, gem-quality diamond ever mined in North America, was unearthed in 2015. (Image from Foxfirediamond.com)

“We are committed to doing everything we can to protect our people and communities, and this testing will add a further layer to the robust precautionary measures we already have in place at Diavik,” the mine’s chief operating officer, Richard Storrie, said in a media statement.

The world’s second-largest mining company is backing its efforts with the guidance of not-for-profit public health experts GuardRX, who have installed an on-site laboratory at Diavik to conduct a testing program for employees and contractors using nasopharyngeal swabs. 

All personnel are tested on arrival at Diavik and before leaving to return home. 

According to Rio, the program is being executed in collaboration with the Chief Public Health Officer of the Northwest Territories. 

Prior to implementing this additional safety measure, the company had already put in place a protocol that included the obligation of completing 14 days of recorded self-monitoring before travelling to the mine, including temperature checks and physical distancing; medical screening before travelling to the mine through a hotline with physician assistants; health screening with temperature checks before boarding flights to the mine; and daily monitoring including temperature testing while at the mine.

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