Coronavirus shutdowns spell trouble for Central Europes coal mines

Shuttering Central European coal mines due to surging coronavirus outbreaks is putting pressure on a sector already reeling from financial difficulties and struggling to keep its footing in a bloc determined to go green.

Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin announced on Monday the three-week suspension of work at a dozen Polish Mining Group (PGG) and Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) mines following a spike in infections among miners.

“These three weeks, thats a period during which all the infected — because of course 97 percent of those infected in Silesia have no symptoms — will simply recover and they wont be able to infect anyone else,” Sasin said on Friday.

The southwestern province of Silesia — Polands coal-mining heartland — has become the countrys coronavirus epicenter. As of Friday, 10,473 of Polands 28,557 cases have been detected in the region, and over 5,000 are linked to PGG and JSW mines

The Polish closures came just two weeks after a similar shutdown was imposed in the Czech Republics neighboring Moravian-Silesian region. Work was halted at the Ostravsko-Karvinské Doly (OKD) Darkov mine after a major outbreak was detected there, and minor contagion events were confirmed late last month at the nearby ČSM-Jih and ČSA mines.

“Its the community contagion that is the problem.” — Brian Ricketts, secretary-general of coal industry lobby group Euracoal

Long rides on cramped elevators that transport miners underground are suspected of helping spread the coronavirus, but so far no other country has reported an outbreak like Polands.

Shutdowns have not been necessary in lignite mining operations in Slovakia and Slovenia, which are carried out in very similar conditions. While infections have been confirmed in some South African gold mines, the cases registered there have numbered in the hundreds, not thousands.

Endangered coal

The Polish and Czech closures come at a critical moment for Europes coal mining industry.

Coal production has been falling steadily across the bloc for years, but it generates about a third of the Czech Republics power and almost 80 percent of Polands. Although the two countries have been fervent coal defenders, theyre under growing pressure from the EUs Green Deal and its goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera, CEO of Polish think tank Forum Energii, said that the situation was “putting enormous pressure on the sector” as national production was already unable to compete with cheaper imported coal.

Polish miners have been pressing the government for years to block imports, but they now fear Warsaw will use the work stoppages to shut many of the mines permanently, Maćkowiak-Pandera said.

Unions sent a letter to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki this week with a “categorical demand for an immediate retreat” from Sasins decision to shutter the mines.

Maćkowiak-Pandera said that the miners are right to fear permanent closures.

“You cant leave these mines for three weeks and then resume work. There are tectonic shifts that can occur during that period,” she said. “These places were already in bad shape to begin with, so its unclear that anyone will be able to come back.”

The Polish government sought to assuage the unions by promising that furloughed miners would receive 100 percent of their salaries — the only workers to get that privilege. However, that carries political dangers as other parts of the economy have also been hit hard by the coronavirus.

“That announcement made workers from other sectors angry,” she said. “In Poland most people are only receiving 80 percent of their salaries, if anything at all.”

Blaming WHO

Brian Ricketts, secretary-general of coal industry lobby group Read More – Source