Gold-mining giant's coronavirus strategy honed during Ebola outbreaks

'The big thing is to keep the vulnerable people isolated properly'

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Barrick Gold is better prepared than most companies when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world’s No. 2 gold miner, which manages operations in 14 countries, has navigated two Ebola outbreaks, tuberculosis and the chicken pox in recent years.

“The whole thing is about screening and testing" and tracing a disease, Mark Bristow, CEO of the Toronto-based company, told FOX Business exclusively.

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COVID-19 has infected 399,000 people worldwide and killed 12,900, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, causing some miners to put operations on care and maintenance as they deal with the pandemic.

Barrick’s response to COVID-19 is critical to the wellbeing of its employees since it's the health services provider in many of the developing countries where it operates.

Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow

“Closing down mines and letting people go back into the bush effectively loses sight of the disease,” Bristow said. “What we do is screen first and again.”

Bristow says Barrick, which employs more than 18,000 workers worldwide, closely monitors its mines and examines everyone who enters. The company has begun shipping hundreds of thousands of tests to its different operations around the world.

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Barrick began rolling out its COVID-19 protocols on Feb. 14 and understands that infections are part of the process and need to be managed. Self-reporting is critical, and the company makes sure not to vilify anyone.

When someone does test positive, Barrick is “obsessed with tracing and self-isolation,” Bristow said.

“You have to accept that there will be infections, and infections are a process that you have to manage,” he said.

Barrick’s Elko, Nevada, mine is still working through the certification process required to administer the proper tests, but uses a rigorous screening process and a seven-day isolation period.

The mine has seen two or three cases, according to Bristow, but the company has not experienced a “big run on infections” in Elko and across its mines.

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“The big thing is to keep the vulnerable people isolated properly and quarantined effectively,” he said.

Managing the business side of the pandemic is also crucial.

Barrick moved quickly in making sure its sites had ample inventory in case of any supply-chain disruptions. The company increased its inventory of consumables and fast-moving equipment from one and a half months to three months or more.

While the company's supply chains remain intact, Barrick put together a global framework with various logistics partners to create a “charter option” just in case things break down, Bristow said.

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“You've got to be paranoid about managing this,” he said.