The Australian Government has today acted on a request from the Victorian Government and provided the state with 450,000 face masks from the National Medical Stockpile to assist frontline workers and those at risk in communities affected by the bushfires.
Fitted properly, the masks – known as P2 masks – can filter out some of the fine particles from smoke, but should not be seen as an alternative to avoiding smoke wherever possible.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said the provision of the masks formed part of the Government’s absolute commitment to assisting communities affected by the devastating bushfires.
“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,” Minister Hunt said.
“These masks will also be made available to high-risk members of the public located in these communities.
“On top of the 450,000 masks provided to Victorian authorities, 3000 P2 masks have been made available for Australian Federal Police officers working in affected areas.
“The Australian Government’s Acting Chief Medical Officer is also urgently working with NSW to support the provision of P2 masks from the National Medical Stockpile to NSW authorities. He has also been in contact with other states and territories offering assistance with P2 masks as required.
“The state and territory governments will be responsible for distributing the P2 masks.”
Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said wearing the masks was not an alternative to avoiding smoke – and people in affected communities should remain indoors wherever possible.
“People with underlying heart or lung health issues and other chronic conditions should consult their doctor for advice before using a P2 mask,” Professor Kelly 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.
“The effectiveness of P2 masks to protect against high levels of air pollution is limited and they are not recommended for general community use.
“P2 masks are only effective if fitted perfectly. Achieving the air-tight seal required is not easy and men need to be clean-shaven for the mask to be effective.
“If the mask becomes damaged, soiled, moist or contaminated, it is best to refit and replace or remove it.”
Anyone can experience symptoms from smoke exposure. Symptoms may range from mild irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, to life-threatening complications for people with existing heart and lung conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina.
Those most at risk of significant health effects of smoke include:
- people over 65 years of age
- children 14 years and younger
- pregnant women
- people with existing heart or lung conditions.
People concerned about bushfire smoke should follow the recommendations of their doctor or local health authority and check state and territory health department advice for up to date information on air quality.
Staying indoors with the windows and doors shut and where available using filtered air conditioning can help to reduce exposure to smoke.