Rio Tinto has introduced testing for Covid-19 at its Diavik Diamond Mine, the company said in a news release on Sunday.
Non-profit health group GuardRX has set up an on-site laboratory at the mine to conduct swab testing for workers.
The testing program is being rolled out in collaboration with the NWT's chief public health officer. All personnel are tested upon arriving at Diavik and before leaving the site, located about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.
“We will be using a test that has been approved by Health Canada and is being used effectively across the world to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Having our laboratory and personnel at site will allow us to process tests quickly so that this program can supplement the measures being taken by the GNWT to help protect workers and communities,” said GuardRX Chief Executive Officer Gary Kobinger.
The non-profit uses a polymerase chain reaction test that detects genetic information (RNA) of the virus and it can process test results on-site in its temporary laboratory, said Rio Tinto spokesperson Matthew Klar.
"We’ll be doing the testing for at least the next six weeks," he said.
Several safety measures had already been in use for staff before travelling to the mine and while at the mine: workers must undergo two weeks of recorded self-monitoring before travelling to Diavik, including temperature checks and physical distancing; be screened by medical professionals before travelling to the mine through a hotline with physician assistants; do health screening with temperature checks before flying to the mine; and be monitored daily, including temperature testing while at Diavik.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to protect our people and communities, and this testing will add a further layer to the robust precautionary measures we already have in place at Diavik. We will continue to be guided by the GNWT, to ensure that we operate safely and maintain the significant contribution we make to communities in the region," said Richard Storrie, chief operating officer at Diavik.
Any workers who test positive for coronavirus will be tested again using a provincial government laboratory to confirm the result.
"Those individuals would then remain in isolation under medical care until two negative tests are confirmed in a 48 hour period. Any co-workers identified through contact tracing will also be isolated and undertake testing," the company said.
Other safety measures already in place at Diavik include encouraging staff to work remotely if possible and cancelling all non-business critical travel to the site, lengthening shift rosters to reduce the amount of travel to and from the mine, using charter flights to avoid exposing employees and contractors to commercial flights, physical distancing rules at Diavik and added cleaning and disinfection.
The company sent home on paid leave about 50 employees from remote communities in March to reduce potential health risks to the communities. Those communities included Deline, Fort Good Hope, Fort Simpson, Gameti, Jean Marie River, Lutsel K’e, Tulita, Wekweeti, Whati in the NWT and Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, and Kugluktuk in Nunavut.
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Operations at the mine continued at full capacity, said Klar.
Around 1,100 employees and contractors work at the site, though the numbers vary from time to time.