March 23, 2020 / 12:09 PM / in 5 months

Congo imposes 48-hour lockdown on mining province over coronavirus

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo has imposed a two-day lockdown in one copper- and cobalt-producing province and shut down public markets in another after two people tested positive for the coronavirus on a flight to the capital of one of the provinces.

The governor of Haut-Katanga province, Jacques Kyabula, issued the lockdown order late on Sunday and said the boundaries of the southeastern province would also be closed. Ivanhoe, MMG Ltd and Chemaf are among the mining companies with concessions in Haut-Katanga.

Ivanhoe and MMG did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Sandeep Mishra, a general manager at Chemaf, confirmed its mines were suspending operations for two days to ensure the safety of employees.

The governor of neighbouring Lualaba province, home to mines owned by Glencore and China Molybdenum, ordered all public markets to close on Monday except those selling food and medicine.

The order by Lualaba Governor Richard Muyej does not appear to apply to mining activities. A Glencore spokesman declined to comment. China Molybdenum did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Together, Haut-Katanga and Lualaba account for nearly all of Democratic Republic of Congo’s output of cobalt, a component in electric car batteries. Congo produces about 60% of the world’s cobalt.

Indigo Ellis, Head of Africa Research at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said she expected the lockdown to weigh heavily on copper output.

“The greatest risk to copper output from DR Congo is the potential for smelter or logistics-related bottlenecks, preventing mines from shipping concentrates,” Ellis said.

Authorities are now trying to locate passengers who were on the flight on Sunday from the national capital Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, the capital of Haut-Katanga, on which two passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a video posted on Twitter, Governor Kyabula asked them to stay at home and contact the medical services.

Only the military, police, medical staff and authorised civil servants will be allowed to travel around the province, he said. Otherwise, transport from trucks to bicycles and barges has been halted.

“No activity will be tolerated in Haut-Katanga during this 48-hour period,” Kyabula said.

The two cases from the flight took the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Congo to 30, including two deaths.

About 1,400 cases of coronavirus have now been reported across Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

There are concerns that the continent will not be able to handle a surge in cases without the depth of medical facilities available in more developed economies.

Additional reporting by Helen Reid; additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Timothy Heritage

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