WA resources sector pushes back on hard border following Mid West, Pilbara COVID cluster

Kate Campbell and Stuart McKinnonMidwest Times
29Metals Golden Grove mine near Yalgoo.
Camera Icon29Metals Golden Grove mine near Yalgoo. Credit: EMR/EMR

Just days after the Mid West recorded its first COVID case since the early days of the pandemic, WA’s resource sector has started to push back on the State’s hard border and strict isolation rules.

WA Health confirmed a COVID case had been detected on Sunday afternoon at the 29metals’ Golden Grove polymetallic mine, about 50km north of Yalgoo and 250km east of Geraldton.

Management placed the man and his immediate contacts into a 14-day quarantine, with all 10 contacts testing negative to the virus at time of print.

Golden Grove general manager Andrew Millar told the Midwest Times the worker arrived on site two days before raising his concerns on Thursday after becoming aware he had been at an exposure site linked to The Library nightclub cluster.

A spokesman for 29Metals said the positive case was no longer experiencing symptoms but would continue with a 14-day isolation period along with the other contacts.

The Golden Grove case was confirmed on the same day as another COVID case on BHP’s Yandi iron ore mine site in the Pilbara. Those cases were the first cases of the virus being detected on WA’s remote mine sites.

On Friday, Premier Mark McGowan outlined more flexible guidelines for the definition of contacts and shortened isolation periods when WA moves to a high case-load environment. However, he could not give a time frame for the new footing nor the parameters under which it would be introduced.

The WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy wants the State to adopt the new guidelines now to ensure the lucrative resources sector can continue operating as Omicron becomes more entrenched in the community.

BUS CME Press Conference In The City to address sexual harrasment and attacks in the mining industry. Pictured is Paul Everingham (CME)
Camera IconCME chief executive Paul Everingham. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

CME chief executive Paul Everingham said that the new measures would allow for business continuity.

“In a shutdown and maintenance team of 40 or 50, it will mean the entire team is not necessarily displaced from work, which would be devastating,” he said.

“Displacing entire work teams could have very significant operational impacts.

“We’re very comfortable with the new definitions and guidelines, it’s just that we’d like them to be implemented now rather than waiting.”

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Warren Pearce agreed companies needed to adopt the new protocols now.

Shadow health minister Libby Mettam said delaying the transition to a seven-day isolation requirement would hit families, workers and businesses hard with little justification.

Mr McGowan said the critical worker definition would not take effect until WA was in a “very high case-load environment”.

“If we were to move too soon, ahead of higher levels of community transmission, we would risk spreading COVID through the resources sector and therefore other parts of our economy. This would only have a detrimental effect on the sector and our economy,” he said.

The Golden Grove mine site has a workforce of about 350. It is understood the company is working with the Health Department to determine if more workers needed to be put into isolation, depending on how much contact the infected workers had with others during those two days.

Sydney, April 26, 2001. A train loaded with iron ore departs the BHP Iron Oreís Yandi Mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia. (AAP Image/BHP)
Camera IconA train loaded with iron ore departs the BHP Iron Ore Yandi Mine in the Pilbara. Credit: NT/PR IMAGE

About 25 per cent of Golden Grove’s workforce live in the greater Geraldton area. The fly-in, fly-out operation produces copper, lead, silver, zinc and gold.

The cluster at BHP’s Yandi mine had grown to two cases on Monday, following the first confirmed case of a rail maintenance contractor at the site on Sunday. The second case was a close contact of the first.

The West Australian reported almost 80 staff are isolating at the mine village after being identified as either close or casual contacts of the positive case.

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