Coronavirus
Economy

Diamond mines begin temperature tests at airports

Last modified: March 16, 2020 at 1:57pm


NWT diamond mines are introducing screening for staff at airports as they fly north to work, including temperature tests at the departure gate.

A memo sent to all De Beers Group staff on Friday states they must undergo a “mandatory temperature check” if flying from Yellowknife or Calgary to the NWT’s Gahcho Kué or Snap Lake mines. (Snap Lake is no longer operational but some care and maintenance activities still take place.)

“Anyone whose temperature is higher than 38C will be considered sick/unwell because they have a fever and will be declared unfit for work, be denied access to the aircraft, and will not receive a boarding pass,” the memo reads.

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Most Covid-19 patients so far identified globally have reported a fever. Other symptoms include a cough or difficulty breathing.

De Beers’ notice, seen by Cabin Radio, states workers barred from flights to the mines “may be encouraged to return home on sick leave until the fever has subsided.”

Terry Kruger, a De Beers spokesperson, confirmed the company was introducing “mandatory temperature screening for all individuals travelling to our remote operations, performed by trained personnel.”

Dominion Diamond Mines said the territory’s Ekati diamond mine was now using “pre-flight screening processes before employees and contractors can board flights … to identify persons at risk.” A spokesperson for the Diavik mine said “health screenings” had been introduced.

All three mines said they were instructing staff to follow health officials’ guidelines and ending non-essential travel. All said work continued as normal at their mine sites, where no cases of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – have been reported.

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Fly-in concerns

Not all employees are based in locations like Yellowknife or Calgary.

Cabin Radio understands some mine workers are being instructed to fly to one of those two airports from their home provinces first, then submit to screening before being allowed to proceed or turned back.

One worker, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job, said they felt obligated to fly across the country to be tested and attempt to work at an NWT mine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday told the nation: “All Canadians, as much as possible, should stay home.” So far, domestic air travel in Canada is not being limited.

Querying why business continued as usual at the mines, where hundreds of workers are housed in relatively close quarters, one former mine employee said: “Can you imagine if it broke out at one of the camps?”

They continued: “Every week there are direct community flights, as well as a steady stream going into Yellowknife and dispersing elsewhere from there.”

Asked if De Beers would allow workers to remain at home in the circumstances, spokesperson Kruger said by email: “This is a rapidly evolving situation. We have a team in place that is working closely with our medical advisor to take action to protect the health and wellbeing of our employees and their families.

“Almost all office-based employees are able to work remotely and that is already happening. For example, we have already implemented rostering at our Calgary operational support centre, where half of employees are working in the office and half are working from home to limit the chance of transmission.

“At this point, it’s not appropriate to speculate on what any next steps might be.”

Matthew Klar, a Rio Tinto spokesperson, said Diavik workers would be told not to come to work if they felt unwell or had been in contact with a presumed or confirmed Covid-19 patient.

“Our first priority remains the safety of our people, whom we have taken a number of measures across the business to protect,” Klar said by email.

“Our approach is in accordance with advice from the Canadian and Northwest Territories governments and authorities.”

In an unsigned statement, Dominion Diamond Mines said it had created a Covid-19 response team at Ekati to meet regularly, gather information, and keep staff updated.

An isolation zone at Ekati has been set up “in the event an employee or contractor is infected or is presumed to be infected with the COVID-19 virus.”

The NWT as a whole had no confirmed Covid-19 cases as of Monday, March 16. Tests had been carried out on 138 people in the territory.

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