Australia

Federal government sends 450,000 smoke masks to fire-affected Victorians

A police officer wears a protection mask while guarding in front of the flag mast on the Parliament House in Canberra Source: AAP

The government will give 450,000 smoke masks to bushfire-affected people in Victoria, amid shortening supplies and increasing demand.

Hundreds of thousands of face masks are on their way to frontline workers and communities affected by bushfires in Victoria.

Federal Health Minster Greg Hunt said the government would provide 450,000 P2 face masks in response to a request from the Victorian Government. 

The masks will come from the National Medical Stockpile - a strategic reserve of drugs and protective equipment usually reserved for use in the event of a public health emergency such as a pandemic. 

“Although these P2 masks have been held in the National Medical Stockpile for use in pandemics, I have made them available today because of the urgent need to assist frontline workers operating in bushfire-affected communities,” Mr Hunt said.

“These masks will also be made available to high-risk members of the public located in these communities.”

Three thousand P2 masks will be made available for Australian Federal Police officers working in affected areas, Mr Hunt added.

Health authorities and experts have said the P2 masks’ effectiveness are limited, but, if fitted properly, can filter out some of the fine particles from smoke.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said wearing the masks was not an alternative to avoiding smoke.

A woman wearing a mask is seen in the Sydney CBD as smoke haze blankets Sydney, 6 December 2019
A woman wearing a mask is seen in the Sydney CBD as smoke haze blankets Sydney, 6 December 2019
AAP

“People with underlying heart or lung health issues and other chronic conditions should consult their doctor for advice before using a P2 mask,” he said.

“Anyone who feels dizzy, faint or out of breath while wearing a P2 mask should remove it and go to a place with cleaner air quality.”

Parts of the country have run out of face masks due to high demand over recent weeks as the bushfire crisis has worsened. 

Canberra has been choked by heavy smoke for weeks, leading to the suspension of Australia Post services there.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Saturday that extra face masks had been ordered but were unable to be distributed because of the Australia Post shut down. 

"It's likely that we will have those smoky conditions for a number of days into the future," Mr Barr said.

"I know that many Canberrans are looking to purchase face masks and we continue to work with a variety of retailers and suppliers to ensure more are available in the ACT."

Additional reporting: Evan Young.

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