Codelco says more pandemic restrictions would be ‘catastrophic’

Codelco El Teniente smelter in Chile. (Credit: Consejo Minero)

Copper giant Codelco warned on Thursday any move to ramp up restrictions on its mines amid the coronavirus outbreak would be “catastrophic” for Chile, the company’s chief executive said in an interview in a local daily newspaper.

CEO Octavio Araneda said the miner, which turns over all its profits to government coffers, had acted quickly and proactively to contain the virus, despite increasing criticism from unions and politicians in recent weeks.

The move to shut down the Chuquicamata smelter would cost the miner $7 million a month

“Once the pandemic is past, every peso we generate will help to lift our country tomorrow,” Araneda said in the interview.

The mining giant said in April and May it had held output and shipments of copper steady despite the growing crisis. But the exploding pandemic in the South American nation has boosted the company’s infection tally and led to calls for further restrictions.

Union groups say at least 2,300 of Codelco’s workers have been infected. Araneda downplayed the figures, saying they were on par with the rest of the industry.

“Let’s look at this in context: We have almost 70,000 staff, between our own workers and contractors, that’s why the numbers are high,” he said.

Araneda touted safety measures the company has taken, including longer shift rotations at its flagship El Teniente mine and temporarily shutting down its Chuquicamata smelter and refinery. He said the company was working with as much as a 50% reduction in staff.

The move to shut down the Chuquicamata smelter would cost the miner $7 million a month, Araneda said, and force it to ship copper concentrate instead of cathode.

That would boost total costs in the division by about 5%, he said in the interview.

(By Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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