As China lockdowns rekindle concerns over metals demand, mining leaders on the other side of the world shed masks and rubbed shoulders at one of the industry’s biggest annual gatherings.

Almost all of the thousands of executives, suppliers, investment bankers and government officials that poured into the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada mining conference on Monday were showing their faces.

Registration desks offered “physical distancing stickers” to indicate comfort levels on name badges -- with green showing willingness for “close contact including handshakes” getting snapped up more than the more cautionary red and yellow stickers.

Registration lines were long. Trade floor booth space was sold out. Those manning displays were busy. Presentation rooms were jammed. Official attendance numbers aren’t yet available, but the pent-up demand for people to connect with others in the industry was palpable. Last year’s edition was virtual and the previous in-person PDAC in March 2020 included a COVID-19 scare as infections started surfacing in Canada.

“A lot of has changed over two years,” PDAC President Alex Christopher said in an interview. “Lots of people have changed companies, companies have changed ownership. So getting out in person and connecting on that is really important.”

Still, the pandemic continues to have some impact, with precautions including masked staff, staggered presentation schedules to reduce crowds and a modified awards ceremony that axes the usual dinner.