Feature: New year in Australian capital starts with worst air quality

Source: Xinhua| 2020-01-02 19:04:02|Editor: ZD
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Local residents wear facial masks as protection against poor air quality in Canberra, Australia, Jan. 2, 2020. While some big cities in Australia celebrated the new year of 2020 with fireworks and performances, the country's capital is chocking in smokes from bushfires. According to the Nine News, Canberra's air quality is now the worst out of all major cities in the world. (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua)

CANBERRA, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- While some big cities in Australia celebrated the new year of 2020 with fireworks and performances, the country's capital is chocking in smokes from bushfires.

According to the Nine News, Canberra's air quality is now the worst out of all major cities in the world.

For two consecutive days, a global air quality index, the AirVisual, ranked Canberra's air as the global worst. The Nine News cited local health authorities as saying that the air quality in Canberra is "more than 10 times hazardous levels" and "having peaked at more than 20 times hazardous levels on Wednesday."

On social media such as Twitter, people posted pictures to complain about the smoke.

"The smoke in Canberra right now is so intense that it's hard to see even INSIDE our sealed off houses and apartments," said Max Black on Twitter.

Tara Ellen described the smoke on New Year's day as "an apocalyptic start to 2020 in Canberra." "I am hiding from the smoke inside next to the air purifier. Looks like the end of the world."

"The Canberra Hospital has had to cancel some medical/diagnostic procedures due to smoke impacting the building and equipment," tweeted a Dr. Liz Allen on Thursday morning. "I'm told MRI machines can't operate, won't be operating today or tomorrow."

Some local residents began wearing facial masks, such as some staff wearing Transport Canberra vest who work outdoors.

Thursday marks the start of Summernats, Australia's most iconic automotive festival. Many people who went to the street for the City Cruise put on their masks, including reporters and photographers of some Australian media.

At noon of Thursday, Xinhua reporter went to a pharmacy in Canberra Center, the shopping center in the city, where an unnamed sales person said there were only five facial masks left. Now and then customers walked in, asking to buy masks.

Amity Raymond had lunch with her family at the Canberra Center, with masks they bought on Thursday placed aside.

She told Xinhua in Canberra, which was dubbed the "bush capital," people rarely need masks. "But now all the smoke is coming from fires outside Canberra," she said. "And we need them for the kids mainly."

The scene was reminiscent of 2003, when fires entered the suburbs of Canberra, killing four people, injuring 430 and destroying more than 500 homes, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Raymond admitted that the smoke affected their lives seriously, especially her six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son. "My son has got a bit of a cough from it," she said.

Her son's grandmother is 78 years old. "It is affecting her as well," she said. "So she has to stay indoors."

At home they have a reverse-cycle air conditioner in the bedroom which she believes could clean the air. "We have had to buy a special tape and door fittings...to seal the doors to stop the smoke from coming inside," she added. "Unfortunately, the house is so old that smoke keeps coming in through the doors."

In spite of the inconvenience, she thought their family lucky.

They went to the south coast for Christmas, where they were stranded and power was cut on the New Year's day. They managed to escape on Wednesday, but some people are still there.

In fact thousands of holidaymakers have been forced to take shelter on beaches in southern NSW and Victoria as catastrophic fires ripped through coastal towns.

Bushfires in five Australian states have escalated, with the death toll for the fire season rising to at least 17.

A State of Alert has been declared for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on Thursday afternoon as the community is told to be prepared ahead of more extreme weather conditions in the coming days for bushfire risk.

Before the New Year, on Dec. 31 2019, ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan declared a Total Fire Ban for the whole of the ACT for the duration of Jan. 1, 2020.

Australia's capital city had canceled its planned New Year's Eve fireworks displays on account of bushfire risk.

According to the Canberra Times, Australia Post has suspended all deliveries in and out of Canberra due to the hazardous smoke conditions. Six post offices in Canberra were closed.

The National Science and Technology Center is closed on Thursday as well.

"Due to poor air quality from smoke, the center is closed until further notice," said a statement on its website. "We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and assure visitors this decision was not made lightly. The safety of staff and visitors is our priority."

The Cockington Green Gardens also issued a statement. "Once again we will be closed today due to the adverse weather and smoke affecting our region," it said. "We have made this decision for the health and safety of our team and our visitors."

Some shops in the Canberra Center are also closed. 

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