Bushfires raging across south-east Australia have so far destroyed more than 2,000 homes and killed 24 people. Residents have been left trapped, while wildlife has been devastated and smoke has filled the skies as far away as New Zealand.
Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, have been the worst hit. Authorities have declared a state of emergency in these regions, with the official fire safety alert system set to ‘catastrophic’ in several locations.
What should I do if I have a trip planned?
At the time of writing, there isn’t advice against travel to Australia in general, so hold off on cancelling your trip just yet.
Before travelling, get in touch with your travel operator to see if there are any changes to your itinerary. If you’ve booked directly with a hotel, find out if they are still open for business, if they are located in affected areas and what the surrounding air quality is like.
If you’re staying with friends or family, take their advice on whether it makes sense to continue with your plans, or whether you should adjust them or cancel. Realistically, if you have planned to visit anywhere southeast of the line between Sydney and Melbourne, you’ll need a contingency plan – you may have to go elsewhere.
You should check the latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) before you travel, be sure to read its dedicated Bushfires page and make a note of important numbers before you travel.
At the end of the day, however, you need to make your own decision.
Where should I avoid?
The south-east region, between Sydney and Melbourne, is the worst affected. According to the FCO: ‘Authorities in some regions have declared a State of Emergency and ordered road closures and evacuations. Poor air quality can occur some distance from the sites of the fires and provoke respiratory conditions.’
So even if your chosen destination isn’t affected by the fires, they might be suffering from poor air quality. Also, there’s simply no way to know where will next be affected.
Sydney, for example, has been engulfed in smoke and haze, with its ambulance service issuing advice to residents urging them to avoid exercise and take respite in ‘air conditioned venues like cinemas, shopping centres and libraries.’
Australia’s capital, Canberra, is also choked with bushfire smoke and had the worst air quality of any major city in the world on Monday morning.
In Brisbane, however, and Perth on the west coast, and in the north of the country, air quality is better. That said, the heatwave is nationwide and safety warnings affect the whole country.
If you’re staying in or near an affected area or planning any travel within the country, the FCO recommends you ‘stay safe, monitor TV news, radio and social media channels for updates, and follow the instructions and advice of local authorities.’
Check your travel insurance
Did you take out a policy before before the disaster started and does it contains a natural disaster clause? Read your policy carefully and talk to your insurance provider to help you decide whether or not it’s sensible to travel.