The Red Chris open pit mine approximately 80 km south of Dease Lake. (Newcrest Mining photo)

Red Chris, Tahltan collaborate on COVID-19 safety

Mine continues to operate with several new measures aimed at stopping spread of virus

With mining having been designated an essential service by the Province, the Tahltan Nation and Newcrest Mining are working hand-in-hand to keep workers at the Red Chris mine and residents of the territory safe.

The two entities have established a joint working group and announced new COVID-19 measures in a joint press release March 26.

“In addition to measures Newcrest has already implemented that meet or exceed provincial requirements, the Tahltan Nation and Newcrest have agreed to an extensive package of further preventive measures,” it stated. “These actions seek to proactively protect and support communities, while allowing Red Chris JV to operate to ensure Tahltan members can support their families and communities during this challenging time. As a result of this collaborative effort, there have been no confirmed cases in the local communities or at Red Chris.”

As one measure, the company established “pandemic leave.” Employees from the northern communities of Iskut, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek may take two weeks of special leave amounting to four weeks of calendar time. Additionally any worker who would be staying with vulnerable relatives are eligible for alternative accommodations on the company.

Newcrest had already reduced the number of workers onsite at any one time, but is now also extending the roster to decrease the frequency of crew changes and to provide a period of isolation that exceeds the incubation period of the virus. This will allow employees to return home without requiring a further period of isolation.

The company acknowledges this change will require careful management to avoid employee burnout.

READ MORE: B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

“The challenges we are facing as a Nation due to the COVID-19 virus are unprecedented and we took everything into consideration when deciding the best path forward for the Tahltan people,” said Chad Day, Tahltan Central Goverment (TCG) president. “Working alongside Newcrest ensures we have robust safety measures at the mine site, we can utilize their capacity to keep our communities safe, and our Tahltan workers and communities will not have to face a myriad of further challenges and safety risks that would follow if a massive layoff were to take place. Newcrest and Tahltan leadership will continue to work closely and collaboratively through this difficult time.”

Newcrest has also bumped up the number of medical personnel not just at the mine site but in the communities of Iskut, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek for the duration of the pandemic.

Both the Tahltan and the company are also helping to supply basic groceries to the three communities as well as sourcing health and sanitary supplies.

The Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) has also committed to matching the conditions and benefits put in place by Newcrest and to encourage other contractors who remain on-site at Red Chris to do the same.

“It is a testament to the relationships and trust between our operation and the Tahltan Nation and communities that in these stressful periods we have been able to quickly work together and navigate this crisis effectively,” said Mark Adams, Red Chris general manager. “We agree on the best path forward based on what we know at this stage and this is a thoughtful and staggered approach which can accommodate everybody as best we can.”

The company has said it is continuously monitoring the situation and taking a conservative approach. There have been no confirmed cases of the virus on the mine site.

READ MORE: New rules issued for B.C. construction projects, work camps for COVID-19

In another press release on March, the Tahltan Nation COVID-19 Emergency Management Team urged all Tahltan to continue observing the restrictions the Nation imposed March 23.

These are:

Tahltans in Territory are required to stay at home, with the exception of essential services and going to the supermarket and or medical facilities. Going out on the land with family you are self-isolating with is okay.

Tahltans in Territory are required to social distance. Public gatherings of 2 or more people are forbidden.

Tahltans in Territory are required to remain in Territory and do their shopping in our community supermarkets.

Tahltan who are outside of Territory are required to remain where they are and follow all provincial social distancing guidelines.

If returning from work camp or arriving in Territory for any reason, self-isolate for 14 days

“TNCEMPT would like everyone to be reminded that the geographical location of our communities makes us low on the priority scale when it comes to medical supplies and support,” the March 30 release said. “With such an unprecedented international demand, towns like Terrace and Smithers, for example, are low and in need of supplies. These are not normal times. No amount of money will make you immune from this virus. The best way to save yourself from contracting this virus is to distance yourself from people and stay home. It is working. Continue to do your part and protect your friends, family and community.”

Meanwhile, yesterday (March 31), the B.C. government issued new guidelines for work camps. The 12-page document covers everything from COVID-19 testing requirements to safe laundry handling.

Black Press is currently working on a story about how Red Chris and other camps in the Northwest are adapting to the new regulations.

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