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Cameco, Orano shut down Saskatchewan uranium facilities due to COVID-19 fears

Cameco announced Monday that it’s temporarily suspending production at its Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan due to the threat posed by COVID-19. Graham Construction / Supplied

Hundreds of employees are being sent home in northern Saskatchewan as Cameco Corp. suspends production at its Cigar Lake uranium mine and partner Orano Canada Inc. closes its affiliated McClean Lake uranium mill.

The companies said their facilities will be placed in maintenance mode for four weeks due to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, although neither has any confirmed cases among their workforce.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Saskatchewan reports 14 new COVID-19 cases, bringing total to 66

Spokesman Jeff Hryhoriw said the shutdown means about 75 people from Cameco’s workforce of 320 employees and 240 contractors will remain at the site — the rest are being sent home, although they will continue to collect their pay and benefits.

Similarly, Orano Canada spokeswoman Carey Hyndman said it will keep about 50 people at its mill site and send the rest of its 320 mill workers home with pay.

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Both said the decision to suspend production takes into account the challenges of guarding against the COVID-19 threat at a remote fly-in, fly-out site, along with concern for the welfare of vulnerable northern communities where many employees live.

READ MORE: Team launched in Saskatchewan to help with business hardships caused by COVID-19

They said the downtime will be used to determine whether to restart the facilities or extend the shutdown.

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“We are all in this together,” said Orano Canada CEO Jim Corman. “Our operations work in tandem, and our communities are all interconnected. This is a difficult time for many, and we understand the concerns we are hearing.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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