Aus­tralia wel­comes for­eign tourists

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Kate Lamb Syd­ney

On Tues­day, Aus­tralia urged for­eign tourists to put aside con­cerns about rag­ing bush­fires af­ter the US down­graded a travel warn­ing, even as thick smoke dis­rupted prepa­ra­tions for the Aus­tralian Open tennis tour­na­ment in Mel­bourne.

On Tues­day, Aus­tralia urged for­eign tourists to put aside con­cerns about rag­ing bush­fires af­ter the US down­graded a travel warn­ing, even as thick smoke dis­rupted prepa­ra­tions for the Aus­tralian Open tennis tour­na­ment in Mel­bourne.

Aus­tralia is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing one of its worst bush­fire sea­sons on record, with blazes run­ning since Septem­ber and claim­ing the lives of 28 peo­ple, de­stroy­ing more than 2,500 homes, and raz­ing forests and farm­land the size of Bul­garia.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son wel­comed the US move to scale back its travel warn­ing and said Aus­tralia is “very much open for busi­ness”, amid con­cerns that the fires would dam­age the tourism in­dus­try and the broader econ­omy.

Last week, the US warned cit­i­zens to ex­er­cise in­creased cau­tion when trav­el­ling to Aus­tralia due to the fire risks, putting it on the same level two ad­vi­sory as protest-wracked Hong Kong.

In its lat­est update, the US state depart­ment re­vised the ad­vi­sory to level one, mean­ing that vis­i­tors should “ex­er­cise nor­mal pre­cau­tions”.

How­ever, it main­tained a level two warn­ing for fire-hit ar­eas such as the cen­tral table­lands of New South Wales and south­east­ern Vic­to­ria.

Aus­tralia’s tourism in­dus­try ac­counts for more than 3% of the coun­try’s A$1.95-tril­lion an­nual eco­nomic out­put. Amer­i­cans are among the top vis­i­tors.

Vic­to­ria’s state cap­i­tal Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia’s sec­ond­biggest city and a ma­jor tourist draw­card, was blan­keted in haz­ardous smoke on Tues­day although cooler weather had eased the fire dan­ger.

The city’s air qual­ity dropped to the “worst in the world” overnight as cooler tem­per­a­tures brought par­ti­cles in the air close to the ground, a se­nior state health of­fi­cial said. Res­i­dents were ad­vised to stay in­doors, bring pets in­side homes and keep win­dows closed.

In Mel­bourne, a tennis player col­lapsed in a cough­ing fit and re­tired from the Aus­tralian Open qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment, while or­gan­is­ers faced a storm of crit­i­cism for plough­ing ahead with matches de­spite the haz­ardous air qual­ity.

The bush­fires have af­fected a num­ber of elite sport­ing com­pe­ti­tions over the Aus­tralian sum­mer in­clud­ing in soc­cer, rugby league and cricket, and poor air qual­ity has raised fears for play­ers’ health at tennis’s first Grand Slam of the year.

The fires have also cre­ated an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter for na­tive species such as koalas and rock wal­la­bies.

De­spite cooler weather this week, of­fi­cials warned that the bush­fire threat was far from over. At least 145 fires con­tinue to burn across Vic­to­ria and New South Wales, though wide­spread rain­fall is fore­cast for fire-hit ar­eas on the east coast from Wed­nes­day.

About 18 bush­fires have yet to be con­tained in New South Wales, Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lous state, while in Vic­to­ria au­thor­i­ties up­graded warn­ings to show one fire burn­ing at an “emer­gency level” and seven fires at the “watch and act” cat­e­gory, one level be­low emer­gency sta­tus.

Mor­ri­son’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has faced do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for its han­dling of the fire threat and its re­sponse to cli­mate change. Cli­mate sci­en­tists say that Aus­tralia’s fires are a har­bin­ger of what is to come for the rest of the world as the planet heats up due to hu­man ac­tiv­ity.

“Tem­per­a­ture con­di­tions in Aus­tralia are ex­treme at the mo­ment but they are what we ex­pect to hap­pen on av­er­age in a world of 3ºC of global warm­ing,” said Richard Betts, head of cli­mate im­pacts re­search at Bri­tain’s Met Of­fice Hadley Cen­tre. “It brings it home to you what cli­mate change means.”

TEM­PER­A­TURES IN AUS­TRALIA ARE EX­TREME BUT ARE WHAT WE EX­PECT TO HAP­PEN ON AV­ER­AGE IN A WORLD OF 3°C OF GLOBAL WARM­ING

/Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages/Jenny Evans

Safe for now: Purku­nas the koala in the Taronga Zoo Wildlife Hospi­tal on Tues­day in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia. About 18 bush­fires have yet to be con­tained in New South Wales, of which Syd­ney is the cap­i­tal.

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