(Matthew Pike), Creator offered
On the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, mining big Vale shut down its Voisey’s Bay mine for 3 months to guard the well being and well-being of its staff and the close by Nunatsiavut Inuit communities.
With the arrival of the extremely contagious Omicron COVID-19 variant and subvariants, well being officers conceded that most individuals will prone to get COVID-19.
The Authorities of Newfoundland and Labrador has since offered steering that residents must dwell with this “new regular” and make private decisions primarily based on their very own conditions.
As a Nunatsiavut beneficiary, a public well being researcher and, till not too long ago, a member of the Vale staff managing COVID-19 in Voisey’s Bay, I imagine extra consideration to impacts of residing with this “new regular” in Nunatsiavut is critically essential to guard the well being and well-being of communities.
Managing COVID-19 in Voisey’s Bay
Voisey’s Bay is a fly-in/fly-out nickel, copper and cobalt mine situated close to Nain, Nunatsiavut, the northernmost group in Newfoundland and Labrador with roughly 1,100 (largely Inuit) residents.
With a $2 billion mine enlargement underway, there have been roughly 900 staff in Voisey’s Bay on the onset of COVID-19. When it shut down, Vale despatched residence most staff with pay, and we instantly started the work to soundly re-open the mine, which occurred three months later.
(Matthew Pike), Creator offered
Like different mines in Inuit Nunangat, Voisey’s Bay invested in an on-site PCR testing laboratory and digital contact tracing badges that may record shut contacts in minutes. We applied a compulsory masks and vaccination coverage, elevated the on-site medical staff, elevated isolation rooms and plenty of different precautions you’ll be able to implement whereas nonetheless working a mine. In truth, Vale was awarded Miner of the Yr for its administration of COVID-19.
Managing COVID-19 in Voisey’s Bay was comparatively easy till the arrival of the Omicron variant.
Our staff labored tirelessly to maintain Voisey’s Bay a COVID-zero website, however on Dec. 21, 2021, the primary case was confirmed. It turned clear that COVID-19 was coming and we would have liked to organize to handle it as successfully as doable.
Regardless of this, the mine went from having its first COVID-19 case in December to having over 90 confirmed circumstances with greater than 70 shut contacts in isolation in late March, two weeks after pandemic restrictions eased in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Ought to Vale shut down once more? Ship everybody residence with pay once more?
Affect on staff, their households and communities
An apparent impression of a mine shut-down on staff could be the possible lack of revenue, and revenue is arguably “an important determinant of well being.” Because the mine enlargement started in 2018, the variety of Inuit employees has doubled, rising the dependence on and significance of Voisey’s Bay for Nunatsiavut Inuit.
As one of many largest and highest-paying employers within the area, shutting down will possible imply the in a single day elimination of a few of the highest-paying jobs, a misplaced sense of objective and monetary hardship for workers and their households. Primarily the worst components of the “bust” for the normal “growth and bust” economies.
Whereas some staff mentioned Vale has gone “above and past” in managing COVID-19, a mining firm just isn’t, and shouldn’t, be chargeable for the supply of well being care.
(Matthew Pike), Creator offered
The truth for Nunatsiavut staff is they’re pressured to bear the burden of probably bringing COVID-19 to their communities once they fly again from a two-week work shift on the mine. These are communities which are nonetheless not outfitted to deal with a critical case of the illness. If somebody requires superior care, akin to a ventilator, they are going to have to be flown south by way of air ambulance, a service that has been described not too long ago as a “continual failure.”
How can, and why ought to, Nunatsiavut settle for a “new regular” when there by no means was equal entry to well being care to start with?
Whereas the remainder of Canada eases right into a “new regular,” will probably be tough for communities and mining websites in Nunatsiavut to do the identical. As Vale continues to develop and new corporations start exploring for brand spanking new deposits, the rise of fly-in/fly-out employees coming to Nunatsiavut possible implies that COVID-19 in Nunatsiavut is right here to remain.
The Authorities of Newfoundland and Labrador and Authorities of Canada have lengthy recognized that more healthy Inuit communities might be achieved by addressing the social determinants of well being. Additionally they ought to pay attention to the elevated threat Inuit face throughout a pandemic attributable to, amongst different issues, continual housing shortages resulting in overcrowding and the shortcoming for a lot of to self-isolate, pre-existing excessive charges of respiratory diseases, excessive charges of tobacco use and an already fragile health-care system.
A transparent indication that the message of accepting this “new regular” just isn’t sitting nicely in Nunatsiavut got here from Lela Evans, the area’s consultant within the provincial legislature. Evans not too long ago mentioned she wouldn’t settle for Newfoundland and Labrador’s apology for its function in residential colleges till there’s “actual reconciliation,” together with entry to high quality well being care.
With out investments into addressing the social determinants of well being, together with entry to superior well being care, the “new regular” doesn’t bode nicely for Nunatsiavut.
Matthew Pike beforehand labored for Vale (September 2018 – March 2021) because the Aboriginal Affairs Superintendent in Voisey's Bay and (Appearing) Indigenous Relations Supervisor for his or her Canadian operations. All through his research, he acquired funding from The College of Guelph, the Nunatsiavut Authorities, the Canadian Institutes of Well being Analysis (CIHR), and the RBC Indigenous Scholarship program. As a part of his earlier function at Vale, Matthew was a part of the Mining Affiliation of Canada's subcommittee on Indigenous Affairs.