The decision was announced by the multinational Lundin Mining, owner of Somincor, in the operational report with production forecasts for next year and, in the meantime, confirmed to lusa agency by the managing director of the mining company. "If everything goes according to normal, the [ZEP] project will resume in January next year," Kenneth Norris said.

According to the Canadian manager, Somincor's plans for the resumption of ZEP are to "mobilise a smaller number of contractors with an extended timetable to move forward with the project." This planning is due to "current security requirements for social distancing and other preventive measures to safeguard and protect the workforce and local communities from the spread of covid-19," he explained. Kenneth Norris added that Somincor expects ZEP "to be completed by the end of 2021, with zinc production increasing by 2022."

For next year, Somincor estimates a total production of zinc concentrate between 70,000 and 75,000 tonnes, a figure that will increase substantially in the following years, with the entry of ZEP into production.

According to estimates released by Lundin Mining in its operating report for 2021, zinc production in Neves-Corvo is expected to increase 66% in 2022, to a volume of 115,000 to 125,000 tons. By 2023, zinc production is expected to be around 145,000 to 155,000 tones. Copper production, on the other hand, is expected to decrease in the next two years in the Alentejo mining complex, with 35,000 to 40,000 tons expected in 2021 and 30,000 to 35,000 tons in the following year. Copper production of around 33,000 to 38,000 tones is expected for 2023. Kenneth Norris justified this decrease in copper production in the Baixo Alentejo mine with "the effects of the pandemic", which "will last for another year or two". On the other hand, he added, the down-to-date revision of copper production forecasts "cannot be dissociated from the production increase" that Somincor will have "with regard to zinc extraction from 2022."

"We have to look at this issue in an integrated way, with a stabilisation of copper production and a significant increase in zinc production due to the completion of ZEP next year," he noted.

Hoping that, in the coming year, the company can "return to some normality", Kenneth Norris also announced that Somincor will soon "increase" the number of direct employees.