March 2, 2020 / 7:44 PM / a month ago

Miners avoid handshakes at Toronto meeting over coronavirus fears

TORONTO (Reuters) - Miners in Toronto for an annual industry dealmaking event slathered on hand sanitizer and avoided handshakes, while Chile’s mines minister doled out masks as coronavirus concerns overshadowed buyout buzz and prompted delegates to scrap some events.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors pass a sign warning about the spread of germs, after another case of the COVID-19 disease caused by the newly-identified coronavirus was confirmed in the city, at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) annual conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference (PDAC) has become an outlier as worries over the fast-spreading virus forces cancellation of other major international conferences.

But the mood at this year’s event is subdued, geologist Richard Risto said between sessions. “It doesn’t seem quite as busy.”

On Monday, the CRU-Cesco World Copper Conference in Chile was canceled due to concerns over travel risks associated with the outbreak. On Sunday, IHS Markit scrapped one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings of oil ministers and top executives in Houston later this month.

Coronavirus has infected some 85,000 and killed around 3,000 people globally. As of Sunday, Canada had confirmed 24 cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but health officials said the risk to the public remained low.

Still, Mongolian officials on Sunday canceled a planned PDAC investor forum and reception, citing increasing global concern about the virus’ spread.

“The MMHI has decided that it is best to avoid creating a potentially dangerous situation that increases the risk of transmission,” an official with the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry said via email, citing Mongolian government policy to combat spreading the virus.

A PDAC representative said cancellations from other countries remain low but noted global travel restrictions had forced “several” exhibitors from China to skip this year’s event.

Organizers said they are in regular consultation with Toronto Public Health and are taking direction from the World Health Organization and Public Health Agency of Canada.

PDAC draws more than 20,000 geoscientists, executives and financiers to a sprawling convention center in downtown Toronto.

This year, handshakes are being discouraged and large signs posted throughout the convention implore attendees to avoid touching their face with unwashed hands and make use of ubiquitous hand sanitizer.

“I don’t hang on to hand rails anymore,” said Michael Griffiths, president of junior explorer Currie Rose Resources (CUI.V), about the escalators at the convention center.

At the Chile pavilion, mines minister Baldo Prokurica gave out anti-bacterial masks with copper woven into the fabric.

“Nobody can really give a certain opinion” about how quickly the virus will be contained, he said, speaking before the world copper conference was canceled.

Reporting by Jeff Lewis; Additional reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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