MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Australian state of New South Wales is gasping under the worst levels of air pollution recorded as smoke from widespread bushfires causes a spike in hospital visits and hazards including poor visibility for drivers.
Sydney, the country’s most populous city, woke up to a thick haze, and blood red sun, for the fourth consecutive day on Friday, even as a cooler change brought some relief for firefighters battling scores of wildfires across the country’s southeast.
The bushfires have pushed the harbor city into a rare appearance this week in the top ten cities with the worst air pollution in the world. Having reached as high as No. 8, Sydney was sitting at No. 10 on the Air Visual global rankings on Friday morning, above Jakarta and Shenzhen, and just below Mumbai and Kolkata.
The crisis has put pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with critics saying he had not done enough to address the impact of climate change on Australia.
“The impacts of the ongoing drought and recent bushfires have led to some of the highest levels of air pollutants recorded in New South Wales since air quality monitoring began during the millennium drought,” a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said in an email.
Workers heading into the city and children going to school donned masks to deal with the hazardous air quality while 55 bush and grass fires still burned across the state after two weeks.
The smoke haze brought with it particulate pollution, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream, a danger that the NSW Health Ministry said had resulted in rising numbers of people showing up at hospital emergency departments.
In some areas of NSW and South Australia state, officials were advising motorists to take care while driving because of reduced visibility.