N.W.T.'s Gahcho Kué mine suspends operations as six new COVID-19 cases identified

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The N.W.T.'s Gahcho Kué diamond mine has suspended all operations after six workers tested positive for COVID-19 amid an ongoing outbreak at the facility.

A release from health officials sent Saturday said six workers at the mine had received a presumed positive diagnosis from on-site rapid testing. Results from tests performed on-site still need to be confirmed in territorial health facilities, so the six new cases are for now only presumed positive.

"The health and safety of our employees and contractors are our first priority so we made the immediate decision to stop mining and processing of ore … until we determine a safe path forward," Lyndon Clark, the mine's general manager, is quoted as saying in a release sent Saturday evening by De Beers, the mine's owner.

With the new cases, the mine now has eight presumptive or confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Saturday's night release from De Beers said 47 additional individuals were identified as potential contacts and are in isolation.

All employees not required "to keep essential services operating" have been confined to their rooms, "except to use the washroom and for scheduled meal times." The release says 335 workers are currently on-site.

"Further information will be released as the situation evolves," De Beers' release concludes.

The chief public health officer declared an outbreak at the De Beers-operated mine on Wednesday, shortly after two out-of-territory workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Just a few days before, on Jan. 29, health officials declared a separate outbreak at a contractor-operated winter road work site en route to the mine, where three positive cases have been identified.

The release notes that the six new cases identified Saturday are not believed to be connected to the outbreak at the work site.

"The Gahcho Kué diamond mine is located 40 km from the company's winter road camp," the release reads. "Crews do not travel between the two sites."

The territory declares an outbreak when individuals are acquiring COVID-19 within a closed facility or work site.

"None of the presumptive or confirmed cases were infectious during travel to the mine," the release reads. "The company has tested all employees at the mine site, and continues to work with public health officials to mitigate transmission risk."

The N.W.T. has seen 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Saturday evening, the territory counted only one active case, as non-resident workers are not included among the territory's numbers.