Copper giant Peru to gradually ease restrictions on mining sector in May

LIMA, May 3 (Reuters) - Peru will gradually ease restrictions on key sectors including mining and construction in May, the government said in a decree on Sunday, after activity had been virtually paralyzed since mid-March by the coronavirus pandemic and a nationwide lockdown.

In the decree published in the official newspaper El Peruano, the government said the exploitation, storage and transportation of large-scale mining could be restarted, as well as key construction projects, some related to hydrocarbons.

Peru is the world’s second largest producer of copper and is heavily dependent on the sector for economic growth.

The decree said that to restart activities, companies must implement rigorous health protocols to avoid infections. These will be set by local governments within the next five days and will be supervised by health authorities.

The country’s mining sector and wider economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has seen 42,534 confirmed cases of the virus in the country - the second most in Latin America. The death toll from the disease in Peru is now around 1,200.

“It is necessary to begin the social and economic recovery,” the government said in the decree.

“Therefore, it is a priority to address the transition to a resumption of activities that incorporates precautions and protective measures to prevent infections and minimize the risk of a rebound in the disease.”

Major local mine Antamina, controlled by global firms BHP Group Ltd and Glencore, reported over the last week that some 210 company workers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, of which 87% were asymptomatic.

The government of President Martín Vizcarra had previously said it would restart key activities in four phases starting this month, but without specifying which sectors.

The supreme decree on Sunday also included resumptions of production in the agricultural industry, industrial fishing, some areas of construction and the metal-mechanical sector.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker