Australia bushfire smoke linked to hundreds of deaths

SYDNEY: Smoke from Australia's deadly recent bushfires is linked to an estimated 445 deaths and more than 4,000 hospitalisations over several months, a government inquiry heard Tuesday (May 26).

More than 30 people died as a direct cause of the blazes and thousands of homes were destroyed in late 2019 and early 2020, leaving affected communities devastated.

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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.

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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 A$2 billion (US$1.3 billion) in health costs associated with premature loss of life and admissions to hospitals," she added.

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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.

"There's fluctuation year to year, of course, but that was a major departure from anything we had seen in the previous 20 years," she added.

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