Coronavirus

Covid-19 test laboratory opens at NWT’s Diavik diamond mine


The NWT’s Diavik diamond mine will begin private testing for Covid-19 at its mine site after a research group installed an on-site laboratory.

The mine says anyone at the site will be tested – using a nasopharyngeal swab, in similar fashion to the NWT government’s current tests – on arrival and before leaving.

In a statement, Diavik owner Rio Tinto said the program was implemented “in collaboration” with the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola.

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Richard Storrie, Diavik’s chief operating officer, said: “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.”

Precautions against Covid-19 at the NWT’s mines have come under intense scrutiny. The mines’ continued use of workers from southern regions of Canada, where the virus is more widespread, is perceived as one of the territory’s largest remaining weak spots after its borders were closed to most incoming non-residents.

The NWT government has consistently stated it has faith in the mines to maintain effective measures against the virus, though Dr Kandola has also issued a public health order making certain measures mandatory at mines.

That public health order did not include mandatory on-site testing.

Diavik says any worker who tests positive will have a swab sent to a government laboratory for confirmation. Workers with confirmed positive tests will be isolated until they receive two negative tests 24 hours apart, which is the NWT government’s current standard for declaring a patient recovered.

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Testing at Diavik will be run by GuardRX, a not-for-profit vaccine research group.

Rio Tinto says other measures in place include lengthening the number of days workers spend at the mine to reduce travel to and from the site.

Physical distancing measures are in place at the site, Rio Tinto said, and medical screening by temperature test is continuing before workers board flights to the mine.

Once at the mine, there are daily temperature tests, the mine owner said.

What’s happening at other mines

The other operational diamond mine in the NWT, De Beers’ Gahcho Kué, last provided an update on its Covid-19 precautions in early April.

Measures in place at that time were similar to those at Diavik, including a lengthening of shift patterns to reduce travel, physical distancing at the mine, temperature screening, and the establishment of a Covid-19 hotline to let workers reach medical staff.

Both mines have sent home staff from smaller NWT communities to limit those communities’ risk of exposure.

Gahcho Kué recently won a major safety award, leading De Beers to proclaim it “among the safest mines in the country.”

The NWT’s third diamond mine, Ekati, has been shut down since March over concerns about the pandemic.

Diavik’s management is presently locked in a court battle with Dominion Diamond Mines, owner of Ekati and a part-owner of Diavik, over Dominion’s entry into creditor protection and subsequent non-payment of invoices related to Diavik’s operations.

The risk Covid-19 presents at work sites like mines has been highlighted by outbreaks at equivalent facilities elsewhere in Canada.

The NWT government recently issued an alert related to Kearl Lake, an Imperial Oil facility in Alberta where some of the territory’s residents work and where dozens of Covid-19 cases has been diagnosed.

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