Baffinland Iron Mines is suspending its operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak at its Mary River Project in Nunavut, said a news release issued Wednesday.
An outbreak was declared last Sunday when nine workers tested positive. Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, announced Thursday there are now 23 active cases at the mine.
"The health and safety of Baffinland's workforce is always a top priority and the decision has been made to temporarily suspend operations and demobilize all non-essential workers from Mary River until such time as control has been regained over the spread of COVID-19," the release reads.
Essential staff doing work like environmental monitoring and infrastructure maintenance will stay at the mine, while all non-essential staff will be flown South, including those with COVID-19. (Those infected will finish isolation down South).
Two types of the virus have been found on site Patterson said — the B117 variant currently in Iqaluit and the B1617, a variant originally identified in India.
Patterson says B1617 isn't considered "a variant of concern" among health officials because there's no evidence it spreads faster than other strains of COVID-19.
The Mary River Project workforce has had no contact with Nunavut communities since early 2020, when local workers were sent home to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to communities. Those staff members have been earning "standby pay rates with full group benefits" since April, 2020.
There will be industrial cleaners on site for enhanced sanitization services so that the mine can "return to full operations," the release said.
"Baffinland continues to work closely with Nunavut public health during this time."