Fay Johnston, a public health expert from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, told the bushfire royal commission on Tuesday that her team estimated that 445 people died as a result of the smoke that blanketed much of the nation”s east coast, reports Xinhua news agency.
It takes the total death toll from the 2019-2020 bushfire season, which has been dubbed the “Black Summer”, to nearly 480 after 34 people lost their lives directly.
According to modelling produced by Johnston and her colleagues, 80 per cent of Australians were affected by the smoke at some point, including 3,340 people who were hospitalized with heart and lung problems.
“We were able to work out a yearly cost of bushfire smoke for each summer season and our estimates for the last season were A$2 billion in health costs,” Johnston said.
“There”s fluctuation year to year, of course, but that was a major departure from anything we had seen in the previous 20 years.”
Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all had periods where they had the worst air quality in the world as a result of the smoke.
Commissioners also heard on Tuesday that the increasing frequency of significant bushfire events in Australia meant that survivors no longer feel safe during the recovery phase.
“Disasters are no longer perceived as rare events, they are often seen as climate change, and they”re part of our new reality,” Lisa Gibbs, a child welfare expert from the University of Melbourne, said.
“We don”t know how that is going to affect recovery because the seeds of hope are a really important part of people”s ability to deal with what has happened and to get back on track.”