Chile lithium miners take coronavirus precautions, say impact on output minimal so far – by Dave Sherwood (Reuters/Financial Post – March 17, 2020)

SANTIAGO — Top lithium miners in Chile, the world´s No.2 producer of the ultralight battery metal, ramped up sanitary precautions at their Atacama salt flat mining operations to protect workers from the coronavirus outbreak, but said impact on output was minimal thus far.

Cases of coronavirus in Chile had jumped to 181 on Tuesday, prompting authorities to shut down the country´s borders, close schools and prohibit gatherings of large groups. The South American nation is also the world´s top copper producer.

SQM, in a letter to Chilean financial regulators late on Monday, said the border closures, decreases in commercial activity and disruptions in supply chains had led to “a reduction of approximately 2,000 metric tonnes of lithium sales volumes in China.”

Demand for lithium, a vital ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles, has plunged in the past two months in China and elsewhere as the coronavirus outbreak has all but halted global industry.

SQM said it Chile operations had yet to see “any material impacts” related to the outbreak of the virus. “We have taken measures to mitigate the impacts of this health emergency on our employees and limit the impact it could have on our operations.

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