Peru miners halt operations to slow coronavirus spread; Chile braces for impact

LIMA (Reuters) - Miners shuttered or wound down operations in Peru on Tuesday and were girding for extended supply chain disruptions in neighboring Chile as governments tightened restrictions to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the resource-rich region.

Pan American Silver said it would temporarily shut four mines in Peru, the industry’s latest response to a 15-day national quarantine imposed by the government.

Peru, the world’s No.2 copper producer after Chile and sixth-largest gold producer, has suspended constitutional rights including free movement and assembly to fight the spread of the highly contagious virus, which as of Sunday had infected 71 people in the country.

Peru’s mining ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the sector would be given some leeway to carry out “critical” operations during the national emergency period, although with certain safety, health and environmental conditions.

Mining firms “will be able to transfer essential personnel to mining units to guarantee the maintenance of their critical operations and their restoration to normal levels after the emergency,” the ministry said.

Miners could continue to transport mineral concentrates and other merchandise “to ensure the operations and logistics cycle” of the sector, it added.

Top gold producer Newmont Corp halted mining operations at its Yanacocha gold mine north of Lima, while global miner Anglo American said it would slow construction work at its Quellaveco copper project in the country.

Representatives for Southern Copper, which operates copper mines in southern Peru, were not immediately available to comment.

In copper and lithium-rich Chile, coronavirus cases jumped to near 200 on Tuesday, with authorities shutting borders, schools and prohibiting gatherings of large groups.

However, impacts on mining output so far have been minimal, miners in Chile said.

Lithium producer SQM said a combination of border closures, decreases in commercial activity and disruptions in supply chains had cut shipments to China by roughly 2,000 metric tonnes. Competitor Albemarle Corp said its Chile output had not been hit, but had warned previously of a “weak” first quarter in China, where the coronavirus outbreak began in December.

Chilean copper miner Antofagasta Plc cut capital spending and said it would stockpile supplies of fuel, acid and spare parts and equipment to increase the autonomy of its mines in Chile as coronavirus threatened to disrupt operations.

Reporting by Arundhati Sarkar in Bengaluru, Jeff Lewis in Toronto and Marco Aquino in Lima; Editing by Paul Simao, David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot