Chile´s Codelco beefs up sanitary measures at its largest copper mine

SANTIAGO, June 22 (Reuters) - Chile´s state-run Codelco said on Monday it would implement new measures at its El Teniente copper mine, the company´s largest deposit, to maintain operations amid increasing worker angst over the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The world´s top copper producer said it would move to a 14-day on, 14-day off shift schedule at El Teniente, and that it would begin to test workers three times per shift for COVID-19.

The “extraordinary measures” would allow it to “ensure the continuity of operations and the contribution of El Teniente to the country,” the company said in a statement.

On Saturday, authorities confirmed the death of a second Codelco employee from the virus, prompting it to suspend construction projects in northern Chile and take other steps aimed at reducing the circulation of workers.

Labor unions have decried Codelco´s sanitary measures as insufficient. Chilean mining authorities, however, have dismissed those concerns, calling mine adherence to restrictions “adequate.”

The century-old El Teniente copper mine is located in the high Andes mountains not far from Santiago, the capital, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Chile has seen an explosive increase in infections since May, averaging more than 5,000 new cases daily. The country has logged nearly 247,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,502 deaths due to Covid-19.

Most mining companies in the country´s vast northern desert have nonetheless maintained operational continuity. Chile said in May its copper industry ranked among the least-affected globally by the pandemic, anticipating just a 1% reduction in output.

Codelco in particular has maintained that sales and shipments of copper have stayed on track.

Other international mining giants like BHP, Anglo American, Glencore, Antofagasta and Freeport McMoRan also operate in Chile. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Dan Grebler)