The Social Green Regionalist Federation (FREVS), a progressive political party in Chile, on June 30, demanded that the national government take immediate measures to protect the life and health of mine workers, their families and neighbors in the face of the surge in COVID-19 cases in the northern mining regions.
“We demand that, for the next two weeks at least, all activities in large public and private mining companies be suspended. The business logic of maintaining operations at any cost is irresponsible and short-sighted,” said the FREVS in a statement.
Patricio Elgueta, the president of the Copper Workers’ Federation (FTC), also demanded greater protection for workers in mining companies. He requested that the job of infected workers be preserved and that the workers and their families be tested for virus infection.
Last week, on June 24, 3 mine workers died from coronavirus at the state-owned copper mining company, Corporación del Cobre (Codelco). Additionally, some 2,528 workers are infected, according to the Ministry of Mining.
The right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera has refused to shut down economic activities to curb the spread. Social movements and trade unions in the country have denounced the national government for prioritising the economy over people’s lives.
Chile is one of the world’s largest producers of copper. Codelco produces 11% of the world’s copper. The mining industry as a whole is responsible for 10-15% of Chile’s GDP. As such the temporary suspension of the industry’s operations would have a significant impact on Chile’s economy.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in March, Chilean mine workers have been forced to bear the burden of the health and economic crisis affecting the country due to the pandemic.
The former health minister, Jaime Mañalich, delayed imposing total quarantine in the mining region of Antofagasta until there was a sharp spike in the infection rate. Then, a week before resigning on June 12, he removed the quarantine to allow the mining industry to continue operating unimpeded. The new health minister. Enrique Paris, then waited another three weeks before re-ordering quarantine measures, after another sharp rise in infections.
Recently, the Ministry of Health revealed that in Antofagasta, there has been an exponential increase in infections in the last two months: from 39 cases at the beginning of April to 8,308 cases on June 27. Similarly, the rate of infection has also soared in other mining regions during the same period: O’Higgins rose from 26 to 5,606, Valparaiso from 136 to 11,307 and Tarapacá from 10 to 5,893 cases.
Chile is the third worst-hit country in Latin America and the eighth most affected in the world by the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare system has nearly collapsed in the country. As of June 30, there are about 279,393 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus with 5,688 deaths in Chile.