Swiss gold refineries reopen as virus lockdown eases

LONDON (Reuters) - Two of the world’s biggest gold refiners, Valcambi and Argor-Heraeus, are restoring almost all operations after Switzerland relaxed coronavirus lockdown measures, they said on Monday.

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The decisions end six weeks of partial or full closure that disrupted global gold supply and helped to drive prices in New York and London further apart than they have been in decades.

Valcambi, Argor and another refiner, PAMP, are near the Swiss border with Italy, which has suffered one of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

Together they process about 1,500 tonnes of gold a year - equivalent to a third of global supply - in the world’s most important refining centre, purifying mined material and reshaping metal moving between markets that use different bar sizes.

“From today onwards we are allowed to go up to 100%,” said Valcambi CEO Michael Mesaric, adding that health and safety measures to protect staff meant the refinery would operate at about 85% of normal levels.

Argor said that it would be “completely operational” from May 4.

To minimise the number of people in the refinery and protect the health of employees, Argor said it would divide staff into three groups working eight-hour shifts.

By keeping the facility running 24 hours a day and working on Saturdays it could operate at roughly 90% of normal levels, Argor added.

Mesaric also said that Valcambi would start processing silver again this week, having focused on gold during the weeks of shutdown.

In response to a question about reopening, PAMP said it “continues to progressively increase its processing capacity”.

Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Barbara Lewis, Susan Fenton and David Goodman