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Mozambique LNG in lockdown

Total’s project is at the heart of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, after an infected worker travelled from Maputo to remote Afungi facility

Total’s Mozambique LNG project has become the centre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, following the first diagnosis in the country on 1 April.

The French major is walking a delicate line between trying to keep the outbreak insulated from the local community, and the rest of the country, while managing the risk of having a significant and growing number of people infected with a potentially fatal disease living on a remote project camp, far from hospital facilities.

Of the 76 cases diagnosed in Mozambique by 27 April, 66 were connected to the outbreak in Afungi, Cabo Delgado, which can be traced back to one Mozambican employee of Total that the government says was infected while on a visit to the capital, Maputo.

After starting to show symptoms back in Afungi, the man again travelled to Maputo where he took a test—and became the country’s tenth case of coronavirus, which had until then been confined to Maputo.

Mozambique’s Ministry of Health dispatched a testing team to Afungi to begin tracing and testing contacts. The results took a week to become known—but suddenly, on 8 April, there were six more positive cases related to the first Afungi case. Five of them were found on the project site itself.

“Our daily lives are completely run by this” Pioneer Camp subcontractor

The health ministry found 35 contacts of the so-called ‘index case’ in Mozambique, according to the country’s top epidemiologist, Ilesh Jani. Further contacts were already overseas and being traced in countries including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Exponential growth

Considering the profile of countries involved in the project, it is almost surprising that the outbreak took so long to happen. And, that it remains at just 66 cases, of which 47 are on the project site, as of 27 April. The project’s operator Total is based in hard-hit France while the lead EPC contractor is Saipem, which is based in Milan, northern Italy, perhaps the single worst-hit region in the world.

During the week of the first case at the start of April, at least 2,500 people left the Afungi project site, according to local newspaper A Verdade. Local environmental action NGO Justica Ambiental

says to Petroleum Economist that Total was too slow to stop its operations—continuing to work at “full gas” despite the project’s strong connections with virus-hit parts of Europe.

66 Covid-19 cases in Afungi

Charting the growth in cases through April shows exponential growth, which the Mozambican health authorities now seem determined to halt. On 27 April, the deputy head of the National Health Institute led a team to Afungi to carry out a thorough disinfection of the two project camps—one run by Total, the other by the EPC joint venture of Saipem, Chiyoda and McDermott (formerly Chicago Bridge & Iron), known as the CCS JV. The process is expected to take two to three weeks, Jani said at the daily press briefing on 26 April.

Total and its contractors “have implemented strict protocols and have progressively moved to temporarily reduce the number of personnel at the project site in collaboration with the Ministry of Health,” the company tells Petroleum Economist. “Those personnel remaining in Afungi will be focused on security, logistics and providing essential services required to maintain the camp and prepare for the resumption of operations.”

For those still at the camp, “our daily lives are completely run by this”, one subcontractor on the CCS JV-run Pioneer Camp tells Petroleum Economist. They are not completely confined to their rooms, however; they have the run of the camp so long as they are wearing masks and keep their distance from one another.

On Total’s permanent camp, things are more restrictive. A sub-contractor who had recently left it tells Petroleum Economist that no one leaves their room. The source is now in Maputo, having been approved to travel by the Ministry of Health after testing negative for Covid-19. In Maputo, however, the camp workers must remain in hotel quarantine until a second test confirms the negative result.

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