Russian state-controlled oil producer Gazprom Neft has become the first company to tell employees at remote fields and installations in the Yamal-Nenets region in the Arctic not to return home at the end of their current shift — a move designed to avoid the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus.

Gazprom Neft’s spokesperson told Moscow state news agency Tass that it decided to extend the duration of the shift to two months from the current one-month stint at its flagship Novoport development on the Yamal Peninsula.

“Terms of such extension will be discussed individually with each employee,” a company spokesperson said.

Earlier this week, the governor of Yamal-Nenets region, Dmitry Artyukhov, recommended representatives of oil producers Gazprom Neft and Rosneft, gas monopoly Gazprom and independent gas producer Novatek to switch to shifts of three months to minimise the risk of bringing the coronavirus to oil and gas production sites.

Although Russia has reduced the number of foreign air connections, no restrictions have yet been put in place for domestic air travel.

Speaking in the Yamal-Nenets regional capital of Salekhard, Oleg Arno, executive director of Gazprom’s gas producing subsidiary, Gazprombobycha Yamburg, said that the decision on extending shifts to three months “is being discussed” with the head office in Moscow.

Arno said that the subsidiary has requested all personnel, scheduled to arrive to the Yamal-Nenets region or already working at installations in the region, to buy personal thermometers.

“Employees are requested to measure their temperatures in the morning and in the evening. Their managers have been obliged to control the whereabouts of employees when they depart home after finishing their shift," he said.

Gazprom’s spokesman in Moscow,Sergey Kupriyanov, said that about 80% of administrative staff from company offices in St Petersburg and Moscow will switch to working from home from 18 March.

Novatek — which operates the Yamal liquefied natural gas project on the Yamal peninsula and is working to bring online two other LNG developments — has not commented on the proposal to extend the shift. It said only that the company “fulfills all requirements and recommendations of local authorities and the Russian chief state sanitary doctor”.

Although Russian labour regulations stipulate that the duration of a shift cannot last for more than one month, it may be extended to a maximum of three months on agreement with trade union representatives.