Mining’s biggest show will go on despite coronavirus

More than 22,000 attendees from 125 countries attend the annual PDAC conference. Image from Business in Vancouver.

The champagne is on ice and organizers are putting on a brave face, but a whiff of trepidation is building ahead of one of the world’s largest mining conferences.

Tens of thousands of mining executives, investors, and government officials from around the world are about to descend on Toronto on Sunday for the annual convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada — just as the coronavirus threatens to become a pandemic.

“I’ll be bringing extra hand sanitizer but I’m leaving the mask at home,” investor David Stein said in post on LinkedIn, adding he would reduce his participation somewhat this year. With more than 20,000 attendees per year PDAC is a “massive petri dish of handshakes and coughs,” he wrote.

I’m looking forward to #PDAC next week but I must it admit it feels a little different with COVID-19 out there, now spreading outside of #China. Here is my take on the big event:— David Stein, MSc., CFA (@steinKUYA) February 26, 2020

Organizers said the conference will continue as planned — with a rigorous sanitation protocol in place. They will be ramping up cleaning and disinfection of things people touch: from door handles, to microphones, to touchscreens.

“I’ll be bringing extra hand sanitizer but I’m leaving the mask at home”

That said, most exhibitors from China were forced to pull out because of international travel restrictions, a spokeswoman said on Thursday. “Others are attempting to make alternative arrangements,” Kristy Kenny said by email. “‘At this time, cancellations by individuals and companies have been minimal.”

The virus continues to spread beyond its epicenter of China with more than 82,400 cases globally and 2,800 deaths. The economic ramifications are multiplying. Analysts at Bank of America Corp. said the world economy is now on track for its weakest year since 2009 during the financial crisis and stock markets continue to slump.

The virus is disrupting events around the world. Banks are restricting travel and attendees at a derivatives conference in Frankfurt had their body temperature measured by an infrared camera to check for symptoms.

Attendance at Toronto’s PDAC event peaked in 2012, at 30,369 attendees, after which a steep downturn in prices knocked back the numbers for four straight years before they began to recover. Close to 26,000 people attended last year’s conference, which PDAC says injects more than $70 million into the local economy.

With gold prices at a seven year high, and miners awash with cash, the 2020 event was shaping up to be a good one. But the mood is a little less than celebratory.

“All attendees need to be vigilant”

The investor Stein’s LinkedIn post triggered an animated string of comments. “All attendees need to be vigilant,” David Thomas, investment committee member at Resource Capital Funds, wrote. “Regular and thorough hand washing is very important. As for the fist bumps instead of handshakes, I’m more inclined to wave from a distance.”

In addition to stepping up disinfection, PDAC will be posting signs “reminding attendees of hygiene recommendations” and making hand sanitizer widely available, Kenny said.

“I think anyone who goes is crazy and complacent about the issue,” Alex Black, chief executive officer Vancouver-based Rio2 Ltd., wrote. “Any mining person knows that health and safety are the most important aspects of our business.”

(By Danielle Bochove and Divya Balji)

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