HALIFAX -- Irving has suspended all industrial operations at its shipyard in Halifax for a three-week period as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shutdown at Halifax Shipyard, Marine Fabricators and Woodside Industries went into effect at 1 p.m. Thursday.

“This decision became necessary given the high density of the employee population in certain work areas, high absenteeism, and reduced critical vendor support in materials and services,” said the company in a statement.

Irving says the three-week period may be reduced or extended as circumstances change.

While Irving is suspending industrial operations, the company says in a statement that it will “continue support operations that can more reasonably comply with health authority guidelines during this COVID-19 crisis.”

This suspension of all industrial operations will affect about 1,100 of their 1,800 personnel.

"We have some tight quarters here in the industrial part of the operation, and you might have a pipe fitter working right next to a pipe welder and they're concerned about that, and we were concerned about that," said Kevin McCoy, the president of Irving Shipbuilding Inc.

Irving says all active unionized employees will be paid their regular base wages for Friday, March 20 and for the week of March 23. Employee health benefits will continue during the three-week period.

Over the past several weeks, the shipyard had been taking measures to try to keep COVID-19 away, including extra cleaning, hand sanitizer, staggering shifts, and lunch breaks.

"I tried to do what we could, but by the end of the day yesterday, it was pretty clear we needed to do something different to address the needs of our workforce," said McCoy.

The closure comes in the midst of building new Arctic Patrol ships on a federal government contract. McCoy said the company has support from Ottawa for the shutdown, and whatever that might mean for the project.

The company says it will continue to expand work-from-home options and other flexible work measures for remaining staff.

They also said so far, to their knowledge, no workers at the shipyard have tested positive for COVID-19.