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Ok Tedi Pledges PGK20 Million to Support PNG in the Fight Against Covid-19

by PNG Business News - March 31, 2021

Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) has pledged PGK20 million to assist Papua New Guinea in combating the country's rising COVID-19 cases.

Acting Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Kedi Ilimbit, OTML General Manager Community and Operations Support, made the statement in March 2021, adding that OTML's dedication reflects the company's sincerity in tackling PNG's worsening COVID-19 situation.

Ilimbit said PGK10 million will go to the Port Moresby General Hospital and other government departments as decided by the National Government, while the remaining PGK10 million will go toward vaccine procurement, delivery, and roll-out in the Western Province, with preference provided to OTML employees, contractors, and people.

“We will be working closely with the Sustainable Development Program (SDP) and the Western Province Health Authority to implement the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan in the Western Province,” Ilimbit said. “Ok Tedi is fully committed to take the lead and join forces with the Government, and other relevant agencies to address this pandemic that is affecting all of us. Our commitment demonstrates the same duty of care we have for our employees, to be extended to other Papua New Guineans, including our people of Western Province.”



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COVID-19 has forced Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) to pause operations in order to protect its employees, communities, and operations. Due to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases at the mine site and in Papua New Guinea, OTML will temporarily pause operations on Friday, March 19th for 14 days to prevent further virus transmission within its operations. This suspension, according to OTML, coincides with the PNG government's National Isolation Strategy, which will go into effect on Monday, March 22nd. The success of the control steps, as well as when the virus has been contained, will decide when regular operations will resume. The decision to halt operations reflects OTML's commitment to take all reasonable steps to ensure the protection, health, and well-being of its staff, families, contractors, and host communities, as well as to allow a stable, cost-effective, and timely resumption of operations for the benefit of all stakeholders. During the suspension, the organization will take steps such as repatriating non-essential workers to their home provinces and introducing a mass testing program for its staff. Any staff may be forced to work regular hours during the suspension of operations in order to maintain essential services or for treatment and maintenance. The suspension is expected to result in a revenue loss of about PGK210 million, which will have a direct effect on foreign currency inflows into PNG. Meanwhile, the Company is weighing its options in light of the Australian government's decision to temporarily halt the fly-in and fly-out of mineworkers based in Australia. It said, “We do not anticipate significant disruption to our operations as a result of the Australian  Government’s announcement, however, we are looking at alternative ways to repatriate  several of our expatriate employees during the suspension of operations.”   After COVID-19 cases were discovered in Queensland from international travellers in hotel quarantine, the company declared that it was suspending international charter flights into Australia. OTML hires over 1,800 people directly, with less than 4% of them being expatriates. OTML also confirmed that it would collaborate with the PNG government to help with vaccine procurement and distribution for OTML employees.

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Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) has begun introducing a Mass Testing Program within its activities in order to avoid further COVID-19 transmission and ensure a secure return to operations. Following a spike in COVID-19 cases on the mine site and in Papua New Guinea, the company began introducing the program on Friday, March 19th, for a period of 14 days. OTML has successfully implemented the research initiative, collecting over 4,000 test samples from its staff, contractors, corporate associates, and families so far. These samples are being sent to Australia for processing, and the National Control Centre in Port Moresby is receiving daily reports. People who achieve a positive outcome are cared for and supported in the isolation and quarantine process, according to OTML's contact tracing and isolation protocols. The mass testing program, according to OTML Health Manager Dr. Charlie Turharus, has aided his medical staff, which consists of physicians and health care practitioners from the OTML-funded Tabubil Hospital, in quickly testing and isolating COVID-19 cases. “Fortunately, almost all the cases we have recorded are asymptomatic or only showing mild to moderate symptoms,” he said.  OTML's Mass Testing scheme has included almost all of the mine's work areas, including Kiunga and Bige, where the company's wharf and dredging operations are located. Personnel in Port Moresby and its geographic discovery sites were also put to the test. “Our priority is the safety, health and wellbeing of all our personnel, and we will ensure that this mass testing program is implemented successfully so that we contain the spread of the virus and resume safe productions,” Dr Turharus said.  The testing schedule is on target to prepare for the resumption of operations after the closure time is completed.

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Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) has announced that mine operations will resume on Thursday, April 1, 2021, after being briefly halted on March 19, 2021, due to a spike in COVID-19 cases found at the mine site. While the start-up of operations will be incremental, the ramp-up to full production is estimated to take up to two weeks, according to OTML Acting Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Kedi Ilimbit. Ilimbit said the company was able to repatriate workers that were no longer expected on site, limit people's travel, and perform a mass research exercise, which saw over 10,000 swab samples gathered from the employees and town inhabitants and sent to approved laboratories in Australia and PNG for review. The majority of the positive cases detected by these tests were asymptomatic and have since healed or been medically cleared, according to testing and isolation guidelines developed by the National Department of Health and the World Health Organisation. “The safety, health and wellbeing of our workforce, our communities, business partners and support service personnel continues to be our number one priority. The testing conducted during the temporary suspension of operations has been critical in ensuring a successful restart as scheduled,” Mr Ilimbit said. “Hence, our immediate focus now is to safely resume operations and ensure we effectively manage our COVID-19 control measures. Our Medical team, including all personnel who assisted with the mass testing, did a tremendous effort, which has enabled us to contain the spread of the virus and provide the necessary care to those who tested positive to COVID-19,” he said. Despite the prolonged halt of activities, the company anticipates a strong profit for the year.

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