How British business has been hit by the ebola epidemic

Almost a dozen UK companies with operations in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria – countries where the deadly disease has claimed 1,300 lives this year – have been forced to change their daily operations.

It comes as South Africa announced it has suspended all travel from the affected areas, sparking concerns that mining giants with headquarters in the country could be forced to suspend operations.

A South African health ministry statement declared “a total travel ban for all non-citizens travelling from these high risk countries,” referring to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

London Mining, which controls the Marampa mine in western Sierra Leone, announced on Thursday the outbreak could cost the company an additional $1 per tonne produced in 2014 and force a reduction in drilling.

“The impact of measures taken to address Ebola and the narrowing of guidance is expected to marginally increase costs versus previous expectations,” London Mining saud as it saw shares fall as much as 19pc on Thursday.

London Mining added that it was forced to charter flights to “sustain a roster of essential personnel”, a costly side-effect of the decision by British Airways and other airlines to stop flying to the West African country.

Graeme Hossie, chief executive of the British mining firm, said: “While production has not been impacted by the outbreak of the Ebola virus to date, we have begun to experience disruption to the supply chain and to a number of services.

“As a result we have narrowed our 2014 production guidance to the lower end of the range, based on the current expected level of Ebola-related impact.

“We continue to be vigilant about keeping our employees healthy and are working closely with the Sierra Leonean government and health agencies in this difficult time.”

PZ Cussons, the healthcare manufacturer behind Imperial Leather, added that they had created an “Ebola Risk Committee” that has begin monitoring all employees’ international and pan-African travel.

A spokesman for the British firm, which has a significant presence in Nigeria, said: “We have instructed employees not to travel to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone until further notice.

“All other travel is in line with World Health Organisation advice, and whilst not being restricted, is being assessed on a case by case basis.

“As a further measure to safeguard our African employees ‘ health, we are exploring the best options to conduct employee health screenings and are continuing to raise awareness of the importance of good hygiene practices to protect against all viruses.”
Ebola is a fatal virus transmitted through the blood and body fluid that causes organ fail and internal and external bleeding. There is no known cure.

Meanwhile, a handful of smaller UK-based mining and construction companies with bases in the affected countries have said operations will begin to become unsustainable if the crisis continues.

AIM-listed Aureas Mining confirmed last week that non-essential staff had been granted to leave from their Liberian gold mine while Golden Saint Resources is believed to have stopped work at one of its three Sierra Leone projects.

Dawnus International, a UK construction firm that works closely with London Mining, said most companies had employed preventative measures, but that some employees had still asked to be flown back to Britain.

Anthony Coles, HR director at the firm, said a reduction in commercial flights to the region had caused disruption, and that workforces had been segregated to ensure the disease was contained.

“We have our own doctors and medical staff on the ground and their focus is of course ebola,” he said. “If the situation deteriorates much further we will take a strategic review and act accordingly. Business is much more difficult, but we are managing it.”
A spokeswoman for British Airways said the airline consulted “a range of information sources” before announcing its flight suspensions to Liberia and Sierra Leone last week.

She said: “Having assessed all the information available to us we have made a decision to temporarily suspend our flights.”
Equatorial Palm Oil, a similarly-sized British company with production sites in Liberia, echoed Mr Coles’ concerns in a recent results statement.

Updating investors this week, the firm said: “We have introduced a number of preventative measures at all of our sites, including hand washing and sanitation at multiple points, screening/barrier points in our health clinics.

“We are closely monitoring the situation on and around our estates and working in conjunction with the Liberian government and other relevant local and international authorities to support all efforts to deal with this crisis.”

Hummingbird Resources has taken a similar approach despite being shielded from the worst of the outbreak.

The company said their own Liberian mine was still at the feasibility stage and that expat workers had been diverted to operations in Mali before the worst of the ebola epidemic hit the area.

A spokesman warned, however, that the crisis could impact their business in the future.

“If the outbreak continues to spread for a significant length of time, it would impact on our mining,” he said. “If it goes on for another six months, for instance, it will start to hurt us.”

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