SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia urged international tourists on Tuesday to set aside concerns about heavy forest fires after the United States lowered the travel warning, even when thick smoke interrupted preparations for the Australian Open in Melbourne .
A combined image shows clear skies (L) in the city of Melbourne on January 9, 2020 and smoking skies (R) due to forest fires on January 14, 2020, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, in these two images obtained from social networks. Courtesy of @ ASTROKERRIE / Social Media through REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS: THESE PICTURES WERE SUPPLIED BY THIRD PARTIES. INDIVIDUAL VERSIONS OF THE IMAGES HAVE BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY. MANDATORY CREDIT @ASTROKERRIE. NO SALES. NO FILES
Australia is experiencing one of the most severe fire seasons in history, with forest fires since September and taking the lives of 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and destroying forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the US measure to reduce his travel warning and said Australia was “very open to business” amid concerns that the fires would damage the tourism industry and the economy in general.
Last week, the United States warned citizens to exercise greater caution when traveling to Australia due to fire hazards, placing it in the same Level Two warning as Hong Kong, ravaged by protests.
In its latest update, the State Department reviewed the Level One notice that means “take normal precautions,” however, it maintained a Level Two warning for fire-affected areas, including the central plateaus of the state of New South Wales and the southeast of the state of Victoria.
Australia’s tourism industry accounts for more than 3% of the annual economic production of A $ 1.95 billion ($ 1.4 billion) in the country. Americans are among the main visitors.
The state capital of Victoria, Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia and an important tourist card, was covered in dangerous smoke on Tuesday, although the colder weather had eased the fire hazard.
The city’s air quality fell to the “worst in the world” during the night as colder temperatures brought airborne particles near the ground, a senior state health official said. Residents were advised to stay indoors, take pets inside and keep windows closed.
The Australian Open qualifying matches were delayed and the practice at Melbourne Park was suspended due to dangerous smoke, tournament organizers said.
Forest fires have affected a number of elite sports competitions during the Australian summer, including football, rugby league and cricket, and poor air conditions have increased fears for the health of players in the first Grand Slam of the year of tennis.
The fires have also created an ecological disaster for native species, including koalas and rock wallabies.
Despite the colder weather this week, officials warned that the threat of forest fires was far from over.
At least 180 fires continued to burn in the states of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), although widespread rainfall is forecast for areas affected by fires on the east coast as of Wednesday.
There were still about 20 forest fires to be contained in New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, while in Victoria five fires were in the warning “Watch and act”, a level below the state of emergency, said the authorities.
“I wish I could say that this is over, but we have a long way to go,” Lisa Neville, Victoria’s police and emergency services minister, told reporters.
The conservative Morrison government has faced national and international criticism for its management of the threat of fire and its response to climate change.
The prime minister said on Sunday that the government could increase its targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as long as this does not increase energy prices or affect economic growth.
Climate scientists warned that Australia’s fires were an omen of what would come for the rest of the world as the planet warmed due to human activity.
“The temperature conditions in Australia are extreme at the moment, but they are what we expect to happen on average in a world of three degrees of global warming,” said Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impact Research at the Hadley Center at Met Office From great britain.
“It brings you home what climate change means.”
(GRAPH: sizing Australia’s forest fires – here)
Kate Lamb reports; Additional reports from Swati Pandey; Edition by Stephen Coates