Brazil civic groups urge production halt at Vale mine amid COVID-19 concerns

March 25, 2021 1:02 PM EDT

FILE PHOTO: An overview of Ferro Carajas mine, operated by Brazil's Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, in the Carajas National Forest in Parauapebas, Para State, May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho/File Photo

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By Marta Nogueira

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Two civic organizations have asked iron ore miner Vale SA to cease mining operations at its major Serra Norte complex in northern Brazil, according to documents seen by Reuters this week, as a major COVID-19 spike tests the capacity of the region's hospitals.

The requests came from the lawyers' guild for the town of Parauapebas and the regional doctors' association, according to the documents.

Parauapebas, a city of 210,000 people where the Serra Norte complex is located, entered a lockdown on Sunday, due to a significant increase in coronavirus cases. Mining, however, is considered an essential activity and Vale's operations there continue.

"Really the situation here is one of collapse. We don't have ICU beds available," said Maura Regina Paulino, leader of the local lawyers' guild. "Mining is the principal activity here and it is considered essential. So despite the lockdown declared by the mayor, the movement of mine workers is constant."

Vale and the lawyers' association for the state of Para, where Parauapebas is located, are set to meet on Friday, said Rubens Moraes JĂșnior, who sits on the board of the state association.

Vale told Reuters it has been reinforcing measures in place since the beginning of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the areas where it operates.

It said preventative measures include the "drastic reduction" of personnel at its operational and administrative facilities, adding it has so far carried out some 1.2 million tests among direct and indirect employees.

The company did not directly address the requests from the local civic associations.

Serra Norte, together with its sister complex Serra Leste, produced about 31 million tonnes of iron ore in the fourth quarter, according to company figures, roughly 37% of the company's total output.

(Reporting by Marta Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro; Writing and additional reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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