FILE PHOTO: An employee shows a 1 gram piece of a gold Combibar at a plant of gold refiner and bar manufacturer Valcambi SA in the southern Swiss town of Balerna

By Peter Hobson

LONDON (Reuters) – Two of the world’s biggest gold refiners, Valcambi and Argor-Heraeus, said on Monday they were restoring close to full operations after Swiss authorities relaxed coronavirus lockdown measures.

The decisions end six weeks of partial or full closure that disrupted global gold supply and helped to drive prices in New York and London further apart than they have been in decades.

Valcambi, Argor and another refiner, PAMP, are near the Swiss border with Italy, which has suffered one of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

Together they process about 1,500 tonnes of gold a year – equivalent to a third of global supply – and are the world’s most important refining centre, purifying mined material and reshaping metal moving between markets that use different bar sizes.

“From today onwards, we are allowed to go up to 100%,” Valcambi CEO Michael Mesaric said. He said health and safety measures to protect staff meant the refinery would operate at around 85% of normal levels.

Argor said that from May 4 it would be “completely operational”.

To minimise the number of people in the refinery and protect the health of employees, Argor said it would divide staff into three groups working eight-hour shifts.

By keeping the facility running 24 hours a day and working on Saturdays it could operate at roughly 90% of normal levels, Argor said.

Mesaric also said Valcambi would start processing silver again this week, having focused on gold during the weeks of shutdown.

PAMP did not respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; editing by Louise Heavens/ Barbara Lewis/Susan Fenton)