The federal government has distributed more than three million P2 masks for smoke-affected communities as bushfires raged across the nation.
The masks, which included some that had been stockpiled in the case of a pandemic, have been distributed by state and territory governments to community pharmacies and health services in affected areas.
When fitted correctly, the P2/N95 rated masks are able to filter out fine particles in smoke.
Following a request from the states, 576,000 masks were provided to South Australia, Tasmania and Australian Defence Force personnel.
This included 505,600 masks allocated for ADF personnel carrying out duties in affected communities following their call-up last week.
A further 505,000 masks have been reserved for NSW and 505,600 for Victoria.
This brings the total number of P2 masks provided and reserved to close to 3.5 million.
Further guidance on reducing risks
Minister for Health Greg Hunt says the government is working with states and territories to release further guidance on reducing risks of prolonged exposure to smoke.
“To better understand the potential health impact of smoke exposure, the Environmental Health Standing Committee… will conduct detailed analysis of the best available science to find what links, if any, exist between health effects and prolonged smoke exposure,” he said in a statement.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the P2 masks were allocated with priority for those most at risk of significant health effects from the smoke.
“People with heart or lung conditions, children under 14, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with diabetes are at greater risk of experiencing health effects,” he said in a statement.
Pandemic stockpile accessed
At the beginning of January, the government acted on a request from the Victorian government to provide the state with masks from the National Medical Stockpile.
The masks had been held in the stockpile for use in pandemics, but were made available because of the urgent need to assist frontline workers in bushfire-ravaged areas.
The government began by providing Victoria with 450,000 masks and 3,000 to Australian Federal Police officers working in affected areas, with other states and territories receiving masks several days later.
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