Barrick Gold has purchased more than 800,000 finger-prick antibody testing kits to screen workers and the communities living close to its mines.
Chief executive Mark Bristow said the Canada-based company had invested a lot in the tests, which can be used to detect if a person’s immune system has COVID-19 or has recovered from it.
“We’ve got 300,000 kits on the way. We’ve got about 150,000 in the country already and another 400,000 that we have just finalized (buying),” Bristow said in an interview from Johannesburg, where he is working from a home he hasn’t lived in for 12 years.
“We buy them from all over the place. South Korea, China. We’ve bought some from the U.K. There are also some local tests available in the Dominican Republic.”
Barrick is one of one of the world’s biggest mining companies, with assets spread around the globe from Papua New Guinea to Nevada and the Dominican Republic.
Experts say antibody testing will be a critical part of easing lockdowns around the world as countries seek to restart economies ravaged by the pandemic.
While there are broad concerns about the accuracy of antibody tests for coronavirus — the U.K. government, for example, has said none of the 17.5 million kits it has ordered are good enough to be used — Bristow said they had helped shield Barrick’s operations and host communities from the virus.
“It’s not a definitive test but it’s good enough for screening,” Bristow. “And we’ve had some very good success . . . where we have screened and stopped the person coming into the (mine) gate.”
Barrick was quick to recognize the threat posed by coronavirus, starting in mid-February when it started to increase supplies of key commodities, such as fuel, and counselled its employees about the symptoms of the virus and the risk of contracting the infection.
Bristow said the response was rooted in his experience in combating Ebola outbreaks around Barrick’s west African operations. These mines were acquired through the purchase of Randgold Resources, the London-listed gold producer Bristow founded and sold to Barrick in 2018.
“I don’t want to underplay the severity and unprecedented situation that we are dealing with but we have been through two Ebola pandemics . . . so we had the protocols and rolled them out,” he said.
Bristow, a fast-talking South African geologist, said the company had already started to see a drop in absenteeism because of the general improvement in hygiene across the organization because “people are not getting sick like they usually do.”
In both Canada and Nevada we have worked with our first-nation communities to lock them down because that was a big social risk
While some mining companies have been hit by protests from local residents worried that foreign workers could infect nearby towns and villages, Bristow said Barrick had been careful to work closely with its Indigenous communities.
“In both Canada and Nevada we have worked with our first-nation communities to lock them down because that was a big social risk,” he said. “Their view is they always get really damaged in pandemics like this. So we put in place support structures . . . gave them support on food and medicine and everything else.”
Overall Bristow said Barrick’s operations had suffered minimal disruption because of the virus and production was in line with its full-year guidance of 4.8 million -5.2 million ounces of gold.
© 2020 The Financial Times Ltd.