The 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped underground for three weeks have been told that they may not be rescued until the end of the year, it has been revealed.

Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said the men – who had not previously been told how long the operation could take –had accepted the news calmly during talks with the Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, according to local reports.

“During a conversation with his excellency the president of the republic, we were pretty much able to tell them and they’ve accepted that they’re not going to be rescued before Fiestas Patrias [Chile’s independence day celebrations on 18 September],” said Mañalich last night, reports The Guardian.

Mañalich said the men were still in good shape and revealed that rescue workers had managed to finish a second narrow borehole that would be dedicated to channelling drinking water and keeping communications flowing.

Rescuers are also sending clothes, medicine and games down the 700m borehole, to help keep the men physically and mentally fit.

The accident in the small gold and copper mine has turned a spotlight on mine safety in Chile, the world’s top copper producer.