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Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi copper mine halts output over COVID cases

(Adds lost production figures, economic impact)

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE, Aug 6 (Reuters) – Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi copper and gold mine has suspended operations for at least 14 days, after seven workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the mine operator said.

The company said it had stopped production for at least two weeks “to limit further transmission and allow contact tracing, isolation and testing procedures to be implemented”.

“We are hopeful resumption of operations will occur at the conclusion of the 14-day lockdown and quarantine period,” Musje Werror, chief executive of Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML), said in a statement on Thursday.

Re-opening would depend on the results of contact tracing, Werror said.

The suspension, which began on Wednesday, is expected to cut the mine’s copper output by about 4,000 tonnes and gold production by about 12,000 ounces, the company said.

The disruption is the latest blow to the PNG economy, already suffering from a sharp drop in oil and gas prices that have hit exports of liquefied natural gas, while it battles a surge in coronavirus cases.

The suspension of mining at Ok Tedi is likely to reduce U.S. dollar revenue to the government by about $40 million, the company, which is 67% owned by the national government and 33% owned by the country’s Western Province, said.

PNG recorded a record rise of 39 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking its tally to 153, with two deaths, said the controller of pandemic response, David Manning.

While the numbers are low compared with many other countries, they have jumped sharply over the past few weeks.

The source of transmission to the workers at Ok Tedi was a person who had travelled from the capital, Port Moresby, to the town of Kiunga, on a commercial flight on July 31, OTML said.

To prevent any further infections, the company has asked for all commercial air services to Kiunga to be halted, having already halted charter services into Tabublil, near the mine. (Reporting by Sonali Paul Editing by Edmund Blair, Robert Birsel)

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