Smoke from Australia bushfires linked to hundreds of deaths

WION Web Team Sydney, Australia May 26, 2020, 06.38 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The Royal Commission, tasked with finding ways to improve how Australia deals with natural disasters, heard from an environmental health specialist that the overall toll was estimated to be far higher when accounting for impacts from the bushfire smoke.

Smoke from the massive bushfires that hit Australia in the 2019-20 summer was linked to more than 445 deaths and more than 4,000 hospitalisations over several months, as per a government inquiry.

More than 4,000 people were admitted to hospital due to the smoke, Associate Professor Fay Johnston from the University of Tasmania told the Royal Commission.

The fires burned for weeks, killed more than 30 people and caused air pollution which can be harmful to health.

The Royal Commission, tasked with finding ways to improve how Australia deals with natural disasters, heard from an environmental health specialist that the overall toll was estimated to be far higher when accounting for impacts from the bushfire smoke.

Fay Johnston, associate professor at the University of Tasmania's Menzies Institute for Medical Research, said its modelling found there were 445 deaths attributable to the fires as well as 3,340 hospital admissions and 1,373 emergency room visits.

"Our estimates for the last season were at Aus$2 billion in health costs associated with premature loss of life and admissions to hospitals," she added.

Johnston said that was "about 10 times higher" than in preceding years, despite not including costs associated with ambulance callouts, lost productivity or some diseases where impacts would be difficult to model, such as diabetes.

The fires, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, devastated communities and destroyed more than 11 million hectares of bush, forest and parks across Australia.

Residents of Sydney, Australia's largest city, endured smoke for weeks and the air quality exceeded "hazardous" levels on several occasions. Other major cities, including the capital Canberra and Adelaide, were also shrouded by smoke.