Mining needed to keep economy afloat- Natural Resources Minister

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The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has given the green light for mining operations to resume in Regions Seven, Eight, and Nine even as COVID-19 cases are increasing

Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat in an interview with the News Room on Monday said this decision was taken as it was noticed that all other productive sectors are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The mining sector is contributing a lot to the country right now so a conscious decision had to be taken at the Government level to ensure that we continue with the mining operations but yet put systems in place to curb the spread of the Coronavirus,” he said.

All mining operations in the hinterland regions had been halted by the previous APUN+AFC Administration, as part of their COVID-19 response.

As of Monday, Guyana recorded over 700 COVID cases with the majority of the new cases in Regions 7, 8 and 9.

Bharrat said a Task Force comprising of himself, the Prime Minister Mark Phillips, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony, the Civil Defence Commission, the Guyana Defence Force and the Police was tasked with putting systems in place to allow mining to continue.

He said a proposal was made initially to suspend all mining activities but “the Government is not in support of because…the mining sector directly and indirectly benefits over 100,000 Guyanese whether is in the service sector, whether is directly in mining, in transportation service. So closing mining will be a hard impact on the economy especially at this stage when we are not doing too well, when the other sectors are not doing too well too.”

The indigenous village leaders have raised concerns with mining activities in the hinterland as they had said the miners contribute to the spread of COVID-19 by passing through the villages.

However, Vickram believes that the major transporters of the virus are persons who cross the border from Brazil and Venezuela illegally.

“What we have decided is that the border control must be tighter, the GDF was asked to ensure that there is enough re-enforcement so the borders are protected,” the Minister said.

He added that strict measures will be put in place to restrict movement complemented by COVID-19 checkpoints leading to large scale mining areas.

Bharrat said the mining camps are not the hotspots for COVID but the landing areas where most social activities occur.

“That is where the shops are – that is where you have a lot of foreigners and a number of illegal activities…as a result of that, the spread of the Coronavirus has increased tremendously…so it is not mining but the landing where these activities occur that we find is a greater threat to the miners, the workers and the indigenous people in the hinterland,” Minister Bharrat told the News Room at his Duke Street, Georgetown office.

The Official Gazette which permitted the restart of mining stats that all mining operators shall comply with any recommendation of the Ministry of Health.

Further, from August 16 to 13, 2020, persons in Regions Seven, Eight and Nine are subjected to a 6 pm-6 am curfew and are expected to practice all the necessary COVID-19 protocols such as hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing masks and regular sanitisation.

There will also be increased security presence at landings, and gatherings in the regions are limited to five persons; who must remain six feet apart in keeping with the social distancing protocol.

However, travel in and out of these regions (7, 8 and 9) will not be allowed without the authorisation of the Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Frank Anthony.

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