Coronavirus travel ban hits resource explorers
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to be felt by resource explorers that have operations overseas, with Australia now putting a blanket ban on any overseas travel.
“That is the first time that has ever happened in Australia’s history,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“Don’t go overseas. The biggest risk we have had and the biggest incidents of cases we have had has been from Australians returning from overseas, from many countries that you wouldn’t have expected that to be a source.”
This follows advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday evening that Australians should return before the virus caused more borders to close.
Qantas has already moved to cut its international capacity by 90 per cent while Virgin Australia has taken the drastic measure of suspending all international flights from March 30 to June 14.
S2 Resources (ASX:S2R) has been forced to defer the start of diamond drilling to test a gold trend in Finland due to the ongoing cancellation of flights, closures of borders and measures being implemented by various governments.
The company has repatriated its Australian, Irish, French and Belgian personnel and will hold off on its Finnish operations until conditions improve.
However, it will continue its exploration activities in Australia with an initial focus on the Fraser Range in Western Australia, where it was recently granted two of its three exploration licences.
Ragnar Metals (ASX:RAG) has also delayed its planned field activities in Sweden until global travel restrictions are lifted.
The company said that while it had submitted work permits for planned drilling at the Tullsta nickel project, the travel restrictions meant that it had to cancel the scheduled field validation trip that was booked for mid-May 2020.
“This is an unfortunate and uncertain period we are all entering into both health-wise and financially,” chairman Steve Formica said.
“It is a global crisis that we have no control over other than to keep our personnel safe and abide by government directives relating to travel restrictions.
“In the meantime, Ragnar will need to batten down the hatches and ride the global financial storm whilst using this period to refine the models and targets at Tullsta.”
Companies operating within Australia have not been spared either, with Prodigy Gold (ASX:PRX) saying that it will comply with a request by the Central Land Council to delay the start of field activities in Central Australia.
Conversely, Challenger Exploration (ASX:CEL) has noted that its operations in Argentina and Ecuador have been unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to its model of employing self-sufficient teams of locally-based geologists at each project.
These means that Ecuador’s suspension of inbound travel by foreigners, restrictions on Ecudorian citizens re-entering the country and two-week suspension of travel between provinces will not impact on its operations.
Challenger also plans to employ a third full time geologist in Argentina to enable its current Hualilan drilling program to be managed entirely out of its office in San Juan.
The overall impact of COVID-19 has also affected the majors, with Oil Search (ASX:OSH) moving to suspend or defer all discretionary activities under its control that are not required for ongoing and reliable safe operations.
This will reduce investment expenditure in 2020, from between $US710m ($1.2m) and $US845m ($1.4m) previously disclosed, to between $US440m and $US530m.
Oil Search said the decision was due to the recent drop in oil prices and global circumstances.
It noted that it had prepared comprehensive business continuity plans and was well advanced in its preparations to adjust its work practices and exposures, to reduce the risk of disruption to reliable and safe operations.