June 30, 2020 / 2:55 PM / 9 days ago

Chile manufacturing output plunges in May, copper production steady amid pandemic

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile´s manufacturing output plunged 13.3% in May, national statistics agency INE said on Tuesday, as measures to combat the spread of coronavirus shuttered many of its businesses and forced a large portion of its population into lockdown.

Food production in Chile was especially hard hit, falling 7.9% in May as authorities implemented quarantines across vast swaths of Santiago and regional cities to the south and north, shutting down hotels, restaurants and most tourism.

The pandemic has exploded across much of South America in recent weeks, with Chile, Peru and Brazil especially hard hit. Chile reported nearly 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily for much of May and June, with total cases soaring to more than 275,000.

Copper output in the world´s top producer of the red metal has nonetheless remained resilient, creeping up 0.6% in May as the country´s sprawling mines operated with skeleton crews.

Total mining activity, meanwhile, increased by 2.1% even as the pandemic exploded in Chile, boosted by increases in both the extraction and processing of copper and the production of electric vehicle battery metal lithium carbonate.

The country´s mining industry has, however, shown signs of wavering in recent weeks, as the fast-spreading virus has moved to northern Chile, where most of the country´s largest mines are located.

Chilean state-run miner Codelco, the world´s largest producer of copper, said late last week it was suspending refinery and foundry operations at its massive Chuquicamata division.

The company has, however, maintained that its sales and output have been minimally affected to date.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky

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