The COVID-19 threat to Botswana has escalated considerably with neighbouring countries witnessing rapid rise in confirmed cases, low rate of testing of suspected cases, cumbersome health protocols in Botswana and return of citizens and residents from high risk countries.
Consequently, on 2 April 2020, President of the Republic of Botswana, His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi announced a State of Public Emergency from midnight until further notice. This translates into extreme social distancing and lockdown, with movement allowed to those performing essential services and transporting essential goods with a COVID-19 TRAVEL PERMIT issued by the Government.
As of 29 April 2020, there were 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 1 death in Botswana, which has a population of 2.34 million.
In view of this, Mount Burgess Mining N.L. (ASX:MTB), which is presently developing the Kihabe and Nxuu Zinc/Lead/Silver/Germanium and Vanadium deposits in Botswana is carefully monitoring the business impact amidst restrictions imposed by the Botswana Government.
Accessing Impact of COVID-19 on MTB
MTB affirmed that the COVID-19 restrictions along with the ones imposed by other sovereign states have impacted the Company’s Kihabe-Nxuu Project in Western Ngamiland, Botswana, and will continue to do so until they are lifted.
Currently, MTB is monitoring the pandemic situation on a day to day basis and stated that it will proceed with the planned work as soon as there is relief.
Meanwhile, addressing the virus impact and ensuring the health of all its personnel, MTB introduced certain procedures during the March 2020 quarter, including work from home protocol for all Staff and Board Members, with exception of occasions where it is absolutely necessary to visit the office.
Management and Board meetings and communications with other parties were directed towards teleconference/video from home modes.
Casting Eye on Progress Update for March 2020 Quarter
The contagious COVID-19 health crisis emanated in January 2020. Before restrictions were introduced by the Botswana Government, lock down restrictions had already been introduced by the South African Government. MTB’s staff were put into lockdown and were not able to attend workplaces or workshops. Moreover, South African Airways (SAA) cancelled all flights between South Africa and Perth.
STEINERT’s Bulk Sensor Sorter X Ray Test Work
In 2019, MTB received encouraging results from the bench scale test work conducted on 1/2 HQ drill core samples from the totally oxidised Nxuu Deposit. The result demonstrated that on crushing 45% of all crushed feed, 4mm was rejected by the Sensor Sorter X ray process as being insignificantly mineralised.
This translates into the fact that only 55% needs to be milled and subject to downstream treatment. It should be noted that as milling requires the most amount of power, the process will have a significant saving on power requirements and power costs.
To recover sufficient HQ core from site for this bulk test work to be carried out in Perth, previous efforts have been made. However, owing to COVID-19 restrictions, assay laboratories and metallurgical laboratories were impacted as staff were unable to work and freighting samples through SAA was not possible.
EDS’ Vertical Milling Process
EDS South Africa believes that Nxuu Deposit ore is so oxidised that its planned vertical milling process will work efficiently. The process only requires 25% of the power required to operate conventional Ball/SAG/ROD mills. This could result in additional and significant saving on power requirements and power costs.
However, at present, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, EDS is unable to collect available HQ core and attend its workshops to conduct this test work.
Naples University’s Test Work to Determine Host Mineral of Germanium
In January 2020, MTB had organised 6.8kg of crushed HQ diamond core samples from the Nxuu Deposit to be sent to Naples University. The aim was to have a test word conducted to determine the host mineral of Germanium. To facilitate the same, Maria Boni, Dean of Faculty of Geosciences at the university investigated the host minerals of Vanadium and Germanium in related deposits within the same Neo-Proterozoic belt across the Namibian border.
It was deciphered that Germanium, which is currently trading at just under US $2,000/kg, could represent a significant credit for the project, if recoverable.
Regrettably, Naples University was shut down on 5 March 2020 due to restrictions imposed by the Italian Government, and the test work has not yet been completed.
MTB’s Corporate Side
During the March 2020 quarter, MTB issued 35,333,333 shares at 0.15 of a cent to raise $53k. It has the ability to raise further funds by way of share placements through the issue of up to 82,699,014 shares as 30,686,075 shares are available under Section 7.1 and 52,012,939 shares are available under Section 7.1A.
Cash and cash equivalents at end of period amounted to $49k.
Notably, as part of COVID-19 State and Federal stimulus programs, MTB was granted $10k from ATO.
Casting Eye on Botswana Government’s Assistance Amid Pandemic
Helping the country in the crisis hour and to enable businesses to retain employees, the Botswana government vouched to provide wage subsidy for citizen employees of businesses that are mostly impacted by the virus.
It also announced that in order to stabilise businesses, it would guarantee loans by commercial banks, give eligible businesses affected by COVID-19 access to credit to support ongoing operations, provide tax concessions to businesses in eligible sectors.
The Government is also aiming to ensure the constant accessibility of strategic supplies including medical equipment. In the financial services industry, banks have agreed to offer restructuring of loan facilities and commercial banks will offer a payment holiday.
The COVID-19 Relief Fund has been formed wherein as seed money, the Government put up an investment worth Two Billion Pula, while private sectors and individuals are being encouraged to further contribute.
It will be interesting to gauge MTB’s project development once there is relief from the COVID-19 situation, which is being closely monitored. Meanwhile, post market close on 1 May 2020, MTB quoted $0.002 and has delivered returns of 50% in the past one month.