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Health chief on Morwell smoke: 'I would rather move away'

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Morwell fire: locals advised to get out if possible

Chief health officer Rosemary Lester tells 3AW's Neil Mitchell if she were living in Morwell with a child, she'd leave.

PT0M0S 620 349

The state's Chief Health Officer would leave Morwell if she lived with a small child amid concerns about poor air quality and smoke caused by the Hazelwood coalmine fire.

Rosemary Lester was responding to a question on radio station 3AW about whether she would leave Morwell if she had a toddler.

"I would rather move away with my child if I could," Ms Lester said.

"If I had to stay in Morwell – had nowhere to go – I would make sure I'd take my child to the respite centre. If I didn't have anywhere else to go – to make sure the child had some periods away from the smoke.

"That's the correct advice at this time."

Ms Lester said the air quality had not reached the trigger point for evacuating the town, but she said it was "a wise thing to take breaks from the smoke".

Morwell schools and child care centres have stopped children going outside due to poor air quality. The Environment Protection Authority's air quality index for Morwell East peaked at 459 at the weekend, and at times on Monday it exceeded 200. The worst rating, "very poor", is 150-plus.

On Monday Ms Lester said it was "ideal" for people in the at-risk groups if they could "take a break away from the smoke if they can - if they're able to go and stay with a friend or relative, or even get out of town for a day trip. That lessens the overall duration of their exposure to the smoke."

Ms Lester has warned Latrobe Valley residents that smoke could worsen existing lung or heart conditions and could cause coughing, wheezing or eye irritations.

The most vulnerable were people with heart or respiratory conditions, the elderly, pregnant women and children, she said.

She has urged all residents to "stay indoors as much as possible".

Dr Lester said people with heart and lung conditions should take their medicine strictly as prescribed, and asthmatics should follow their personal asthma management plan.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the northerly wind would help disperse the smoke around Morwell on Tuesday, but would make the fire-fighting effort more difficult in the open-cut mine.

He said the fire was about 50 per cent "out", but this could change depending on the conditions and fire-fighting efforts on Tuesday.

Responding to the same question asked by the talkback radio caller, Mr Lapsley said he would prefer to spend time "in and out" of Morwell if he was a resident.

He said the respite centre at Traralgon was available to residents and the Department of Human Services was assessing and offering assistance to anyone who needed help to leave the area temporarily, including offering fuel vouchers to visit relatives.

If you live in the Latrobe Valley and are concerned about your health, contact Nurse On Call on 1300 606 024.

For Department of Human Services assistance, call the Traralgon office on 5177 2500.

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