Western Australia Endures Devastating Bushfire During Strict COVID-19 Lockdown
"It’s frightening, and it will test us all."
Thousands of Perth residents were forced to flee their homes this week, needing to defy Western Australia's five-day COVID-19 lockdown order, as an out-of-control bushfire made its way across the city’s northeast.
Two million people across the Perth, Peel and South West regions of Western Australia were ordered to stay at home on Jan. 31 after a single hotel quarantine worker tested positive for the particularly contagious UK variant of the virus — bringing an end to the state’s 10-month COVID-19 free status.
The Wooroloo fire began one day later, since razing 86 homes and claiming more than 10,400 hectares of land.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said dealing with two crises concurrently was unprecedented for the state.
“We’re facing disasters on two fronts — the devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told media Wednesday. “This is a situation the likes of which we have never seen before. A full lockdown and raging bushfires. It’s frightening, and it will test us all.”
The number of homes confirmed destroyed by a devastating bushfire in the Perth Hills has risen to 86 as fatigued firefighters await forecast weekend rain. https://t.co/px6EM37ghR— SBS News (@SBSNews) February 5, 2021
David Littleproud, the emergency management minister, meanwhile made it abundantly clear to citizens that evacuation orders override COVID-19 stay-at-home commands, which specify that people must stay home except for essential work, health care, food shopping or one hour of exercise no more than 5 kilometres from home.
“It’s important everyone should have a plan, and when emergency service personnel ask you to act on that plan, that trumps any lockdown orders,” Littleproud told the ABC. “There should be no confusion about that.”
Western Australia is the latest in a growing list of regions to be dually affected by climate disasters and the pandemic.
A report by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre reveals that, as of September 2020, 2.3 million people were affected by fire and COVID-19, while 431.7 million already vulnerable individuals faced extreme heat and coronavirus simultaneously.
Over 50 million people dealt with COVID-19 and floods, droughts or storms.
"It is unequivocal that due to global warming we are facing a more volatile climate with more weather extremes,” the report states. “Wildfires, or bushfires, present a compounded threat to regions experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond the clear risk of property damage and injury by fire, smoke from burning fires is a significant health hazard that may increase the likelihood of lung infections — including COVID-19.”
While fires continue in parts of the state, firefighters hope expected rain and a cool change on Saturday will bring relief.
Western Australia has recorded no new locally-acquired cases of COVID-19 since the lockdown began, a result that will allow the three regions to move out of the five-day lockdown at 6.00 p.m. AEDT Friday as planned.
Residents must wear masks out of the house for another eight days.