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Melbourne air quality drops to ‘hazardous’ levels as bushfire smoke lingers over Victoria

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The air quality in Melbourne’s suburbs has dropped to the worst-rated level today, as smoke from bushfires in East Gippsland and the north-east continues to blanket the state.

The pollution has forced pools and beaches to close, horse races to be cancelled, construction workers to abandon outdoor work and caused concerns about the welfare of tennis players at the Australian Open.

One emergency-level blaze is burning near the East Gippsland community of Tamboon, as emergency services attempt to contain huge fires still burning across the state.

Play at the Australian Open was delayed due to significant smoke haze and resumed an hour later when conditions improved.

Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic had to abandon her qualifier mid-match when she fell to her knees coughing.

INFOGRAPHIC: The picturesque beach at Dromana has been transformed by the smoke. (Supplied: Adam Richmond)

She was escorted from the court and the match was called off.

At the Kooyong Classic, a match between Maria Sharapova and Germany’s Laura Siegemund was called off at five all.

The moderate to hazardous air quality is forecast to continue across much of the state on Wednesday.

Data published on the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) AirWatch website this morning showed air pollution levels were “hazardous” across Melbourne’s suburbs, from Melton in the west to Dandenong in the south-east and Macleod in the north.

It also reached hazardous levels in the state’s second-biggest city of Geelong for the second time in two weeks, while the same rating was given to towns in the firegrounds such as Omeo and Orbost.

The EPA website struggled to cope with traffic this morning and has crashed several times.

One global ranking website suggested the air pollution in suburbs like Box Hill is among the worst in the world, behind only some cities in India.

Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said he believed Melbourne’s air quality had dropped to “the worst in the world” overnight as cooler temperatures brought particles in the air closer to the ground.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) said it had been called out to 192 false alerts from fire alarms since 10:00pm yesterday, the majority of which were because of the smoke.

Ambulance Victoria said it responded to 110 callouts for people with breathing issues between midnight and 11:00am, two thirds more than normal.

Horseraces at Werribee were cancelled and several outdoor suburban swimming pools were closed due to the smoky conditions.

Many of the state’s beaches, including those along the tourist-friendly Great Ocean Road, have also been closed due to fears that surf lifesavers will be unable to see swimmers in trouble.

Life Saving Victoria’s manager of lifesaving operations, Liam Krige, said the closures were to protect the safety and wellbeing of both lifeguards and the public.

“Visibility of swimmers in the water is just one of the aspects that Life Saving Victoria’s trained and dedicated lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers take into account when making assessments about beach safety,” he said.

The closures mean that lifesavers are not patrolling the beaches and swimming is not recommended.

PHOTO: An eerie red sun set over Melbourne on Monday night. (ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Victoria’s construction union has also advised builders to stop all outdoor work, which has affected most sites, including high-rise developments.

A CFMEU spokesman said the smoke was not only a health issue for workers as they inhaled fine particles, but also posed a danger as it reduced on-site visibility.

People living in an area with hazardous air quality are advised to limit their time outdoors and follow treatment plans if they suffer from respiratory conditions.

Dr Sutton said people in East Gippsland and the state’s north-east, where poor to hazardous air quality is likely to remain for some time, should try to let fresh air into their homes when possible.

“When conditions are good … that’s the time to open doors and windows to air your house, to get the smoke out and then when the air quality’s poor, close doors and windows, stay inside, minimise your activity,” he said.

Story: ABC News

Written by: Daz

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