National

Bushfire smoke research ‘delayed by virus’

By AAP Newswire

Australia's former chief medical officer has conceded research around the long-term impacts of bushfire smoke has likely been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The royal commission into the deadly bushfire summer of 2019-20 has previously been told 80 per cent of the Australian population were affected by smoke.

Brendan Murphy told the commission on Wednesday there "isn't a lot of very good scientific evidence" about the long-term effects of biomass bushfire smoke.

"There's no good evidence that there are material long-term impacts," said Dr Murphy, who became federal health department secretary in July.

"There's quite good evidence about short-term impacts but we can't say for sure one way or the other whether there are adverse effects (long-term)."

The federal government in April invested $5 million into studies examining the physiological impacts of prolonged bushfire smoke exposure and the mental health impacts of the fires.

Dr Murphy said the research was underway but it was likely work on the COVID-19 pandemic had superseded it.

"When you're dealing with a once-in-a-100-year pandemic which is crippling the world ... all the rules are out really," he said.

"And, you know, if you look across the Department of Health, hundreds of very important policy reforms were put on ice for months and we're still trying to really get things going again."

The royal commission has previously been told the bushfires, which killed 33 people, also left an unprecedented $2 billion health impact.

University of Tasmania researchers estimate the smoke was responsible for 445 premature deaths, 3340 admissions to hospital for heart and lung-related problems and 1373 additional presentations to emergency departments for asthma.

This week's royal commission hearings have largely examined the issue of firefighting resource-sharing between states and territories.