THUNDER BAY - After being forced to shut down operations due to an outbreak of COVID-19, the Lac Des Illes Mine north of Thunder Bay expects to resume production by the end of the month.
A spokesperson with Impala Canada, who operates the mine, said the reopening will take place in three stages. The first stage took place on May 12, with care and maintenance crews completing essential repairs in anticipation of reopening.
On May 19 there will be a partial shift change and underground and maintenance crews, surface crews, and construction crews will be brought in for production preparations.
The mine will fully restart operations on May 26 with a full shift change.
"It is important to stress that we will only execute each phase of this plan when we are confident it is safe to do so,” said Erin Satterthwaite, VP corporate affairs and communications with Impala Canada in a written statement. “We will pay close attention to the State of Emergency and Re-Opening plans in Ontario; continue to closely collaborate with Public Health, the governments and our industry peers; and communicate frequently with our stakeholders.”
The mine shut down most operations in early April after workers began testing positive for COVID-19. There were a total of 25 confirmed cases in mine workers who exhibited symptoms between April 3 and April 20.
One mine worker who contracted COVID-19 passed away due to complications from the virus. He had pre-existing health conditions.
As of May 4, all cases of COVID-19 among workers are considered resolved and the outbreak declared over.
“The LDI mine has been on care and maintenance for one month. During this time, a deep and comprehensive sanitization of all aspects of the mine site was completed,” Satterthwaite said. We also took the time to study the outbreak and, based on contact tracing, we believe the spread likely occurred through immediate work crews and through interactions at camp.”
Herbert Daniher, staff representive of United Steel Workers, which represents more than 500 mine workers, said he is pleased management is taking the situation seriously.
'They need to be very serious and from my understanding of what I reviewed to date, they are," he said. "They are not forcing anyone back to work that doesn’t feel comfortable and holding their positions and paying benefit. They are being sensitive to the needed of the employees. But everyone needs to be vigilant."
Daniher added that workers are eager to return to the site, but he expects everyone to take extra precautions to prevent another outbreak because the self-isolation and quarantine was challenging for many.
"I think for the most part, people want to make sure that they are safe and their families are safe and communities are safe," he said. "But people also want to go back to work and make a living. I think for the most part people are ready to return. I think the whole thing with standing down, everyone wants to be safe, but it’s a different type of world out there."
All workers will be screened before travelling to the site and again upon arrival. Thermal imaging cameras will be used at entry and exit points, masks will be required in communal areas or when physical distancing is difficult to achieve, and additional cleaning will take place.
“We continue to actively collaborate with, and seek guidance from, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the Ontario Ministries of Labour; Energy, Northern Development and Mines; and Indigenous Affairs; Natural Resources Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada,” Satterthwaite said.
Returning to work during the ramp-up will be voluntary for workers and they are encouraged to take into consideration their own personal health and the health of their families and communities.