Democratic Republic of Congo imposed a two-day lockdown in part of its copper and cobalt heartland, as two of the largest mines took steps to reduce staff levels in response to an accelerating coronavirus outbreak.
Governor of Haut-Katanga province, Jacques Kyabula, issued the lockdown order on Sunday. He said the boundaries of the south-eastern province, home to concessions owned by Ivanhoe, MMG Ltd and Chemaf, would close after two people tested positive for the virus in provincial capital, Lubumbashi.
DR Congo health minister said subsequent testing revealed the two, who flew from Kinshasa on Sunday, were not infected, meaning there are no cases in the south-east.
Companies moved on Monday to start downsizing operations.
In neighbouring Lualaba province, Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) mine, a copper and cobalt project, repatriated 26 foreign workers in response to the outbreak, a union official told Reuters.
China Molybdenum’s nearby Tenke Fungurume Mining (TFM) project told employees the mine would be placed in isolation beginning at noon on Tuesday, according to a note seen by Reuters.
“Only essential services will maintain production. For that, essential staff will stay on site and not be in contact with the outside world,” it said.
Spokespeople for Glencore and Ivanhoe declined to comment. China Molybdenum and MMG Ltd did not respond to requests for comment.
Sandeep Mishra, a general manager at Chemaf, the Congo subsidiary of Dubai-based Shalina Resources, confirmed its mines in Haut-Katanga were suspended for two days and said production would suffer.
“The safety of employees is our first priority, hence we support a two day lockdown in operations,” Mishra said.
Together, Haut-Katanga and Lualaba account for almost all Congo’s cobalt, a component in electric car batteries. Congo produces about 60% of the world’s cobalt.
Indigo Ellis, Head of Africa Research at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, expected the lockdown and possible subsequent disruptions to weigh heavily on copper output.
Congo hasrecorded 45 cases of the coronavirus, the country’s biomedical institute said, a 50% jump from a day earlier.
“Operators will likely place mines under care and maintenance for a minimum period of 14 days, as we’ve seen in comparable mines in Peru and Chile,” Ellis said.
“The difference in DRC is these companies have to make the first move. Local and national governments will not mandate shutdowns to keep up resource rents.”
In Lualaba, Muyej ordered public markets to close on Monday except those selling food and medicine. He said the order does not apply to mines.
In Haut-Katanga, Kyabula said only the military, police, medical staff and authorised civil servants would be allowed to travel and halted transport from trucks to bicycles and barges.
“No activity will be tolerated in Haut-Katanga during this 48-hour period,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
More than 1 700 cases of coronavirus have now been reported across Africa, according to a Reuters tally.