ACT Health alert: Smoke and extreme heat impacting Canberra

The ACT Health Directorate are today upgrading health advice to the community due to the deterioration of air quality across Canberra from smoke.

Dr Vanessa Johnston, Public Health Physician, and Dr Greg Hollis, Clinical Director of Canberra Hospital Emergency Department, providing health advice on smoky air and extreme heat conditions.

The ACT Health Directorate are today upgrading health advice to the community due to the deterioration of air quality across Canberra from smoke.

ACT Public Health Physician, Dr Vanessa Johnston said the impact of the smoke haze on air quality is being intensified by the extreme heat conditions that are forecast to continue over the coming days.

“Our air quality is being significantly impacted by this combination of bushfire smoke, extremely high temperatures and lack of wind, which means the smoke is lingering,” Dr Johnston said.

“During these periods of heavy smoke haze, all Canberrans are advised to avoid physical activity outside.

“People who are sensitive to smoke, especially those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions, should take extra care and stay indoors where possible and take medication prescribed by their doctor.”

People who are sensitive to smoke and air pollution can also be more vulnerable to heat-related illness. This includes:

  • people with heart or lung conditions (including asthma)
  • children aged less than 14 years
  • pregnant women, and
  • people over 65 years of age.

“With the extreme heat, it is also important for everyone to be aware and prepare for the hot temperatures,” Dr Johnston said.

“During these times, it is vital for people to stay hydrated and to keep cool.

"People should make sure they are drinking plenty of cool water – don’t wait until you are thirsty. People should also avoid being outdoors in the hottest parts of the day.

“We are strongly advising people more vulnerable to these conditions to take extra care while these heavy levels of smoke are lingering. This includes remaining indoors and keeping activity levels as low as possible.

“Anyone with a heart or lung condition should take their medication as prescribed by their doctor. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan.

“Anyone with concerns about their health should seek medical advice from their doctor. And anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek urgent medical attention and in the event of a medical emergency call triple-zero (000).”

Canberra Health Services Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Chatham said the Emergency Department at Canberra Hospital had seen a small increase in respiratory-related presentations today.

“We would like to reinforce ACT Health’s advice to avoid outside physical activity, stay indoors with windows and doors closed and use recycled air conditioning,” Ms Chatham said.

“We can implement plans should we see a spike in presentations for asthma and respiratory related illnesses, however this is not necessary at this stage.

“If you have an appointment with any of our clinics today and feel well enough to come in, please attend your appointment as planned.

“However, if you are sensitive to smoke you should take measures to reduce your exposure. This includes staying indoors (with windows and doors closed) where possible. Canberra Health Services staff will work with you to reschedule your appointment if you’re unable to attend due to the smoke.”

For further information on minimising the health impacts of outdoor smoke, refer to our factsheet

The ACT Health Directorate is continuing to monitor the air quality in the ACT and will advise the public of additional public health advice when needed and as information becomes available.

For those interested in monitoring the levels of smoke in the air (PM2.5), see our Health advice for smoky air page.

At this time, the smoky air conditions are expected to continue to impact the ACT while the NSW bushfires are burning, with dense smoke impacting a large area of our region.  

For further information on weather conditions, visit: www.bom.gov.au

Page last updated on: 20 Dec 2019