SINGAPORE/HOUSTON: When miners at Indonesia’s giant Grasberg gold and copper mine started testing positive for coronavirus early in the pandemic, the mountain-top mining complex was quickly locked down with a skeletal staff left in place to maintain production.But as months of travel curbs dragged on, angry workers blockaded the mine for four days in August until the operator – a unit of U.S. miner Freeport McMoRan Inc – relented and let them resume weekly rotations out of the site via a four-hour trek by cable car and bus to towns below.

Now the workers are happier, but health experts fear the greater risk of a new outbreak.
The tensions expose the balancing act to maintain output at full blast, while containing Covid-19 in mines like Grasberg, the world’s largest gold mine and second-largest copper mine.

“We’ve put the priority and the health of our workers and community at the top of our list,” Freeport McMoRan Chief Executive Richard Adkerson told Reuters. “From the outset, we recognized that (Grasberg) was a particularly vulnerable place due to the size of the workforce” of nearly 30,000 people.