Wangaratta was the third-worst city in the world for air quality at 11am, and by 11.30am the eastern Melbourne suburb of Doncaster was in fifth place. The Indian city of Singrauli was the worst at 11am.
At 4pm, according to the World Air Quality index, the Melbourne suburb of Brighton had worse air quality than Shanghai in China and Kolkata in India.
Outdoor pools including at Carlton Baths, Harold Holt Memorial Pool and Collingwood Leisure Centre closed across Melbourne due to the poor air quality. Basketball matches at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre on Tuesday night were cancelled.
Ambulance Victoria reported 162 callouts due to breathing issues across Victoria from midnight to 4pm on Tuesday. A spokeswoman said this was up 88 per cent compared with respiratory cases on the annual daily average.
The smoke haze may remain across the city for much of Wednesday until a southerly wind change late in the afternoon heralds a gradual easing of the smoke haze, the Bureau of Meteorology said. The change may also bring showers or a storm.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Melbourne’s air quality was the the poorest across the world on Monday night.
“I think overnight for Melbourne it did reach the worst in the world,” he said.
Union CFMMEU’s Victoria and Tasmania branch said outdoor work conditions were “dangerous and unhealthy” on Monday, and advised members not to work when air quality was considered “very poor” or “hazardous”.
Australia Post said the use of P2 face masks was compulsory for staff working outdoors “in areas where the air quality is rated as very poor or hazardous”.
An Australia Post spokesman said staff had been informed “that if they’re sensitive to poor air quality, feeling unwell, or simply don’t feel safe being outdoors today, that indoor work can be provided as an alternative”.
Life Saving Victoria temporarily closed more than 20 patrolled beaches, including St Kilda and Williamstown, plus sites along the Surf Coast such as Lorne, due to poor air quality and reduced visibility.
The entire state was choking under a blanket of bushfire smoke on Tuesday, with Geelong, the Latrobe Valley, Central Victoria, Gippsland and the North Central regions considered to have “hazardous” air quality at 7am.
The smoke, which blew into the city from the bushfires in East Gippsland, the state’s north-east and NSW, was measured at “hazardous” levels in Melbourne’s CBD between 12am and 4am.
It also caused problems for firefighters in Melbourne. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade attended 260 false alarms from 10pm Monday to 4.30pm on Tuesday.
EPA air quality scientist Jason Choi said smoke from the East Gippsland and NSW fires had been pushed into the city by easterly winds, but there was no breeze around Port Phillip to get rid of it.
Those with heart and respiratory issues are being told to keep out of the smoke, but even healthy people are being warned to stay inside.
Melburnians have also been advised to close windows and doors, and program airconditioners to recirculate air if they are being used.
Dr Sutton said people might experience a worsening cough and a dry nose and throat.
“For those vulnerable groups – over-65s, under-15s, pregnant women and people with existing lung/heart disease or diabetes – we are saying avoid exposure to the smoke by staying indoors and limiting physical activity,” he said.
He said people in parts of the state where the air quality was “hazardous” should stay indoors as much as possible.
The fires burning through Victoria’s east and north-east have claimed four men’s lives, 353 homes and 548 other structures.
Sixteen fires are still burning and 1.4 million hectares has been destroyed across the state.
A slightly calmer weather forecast is allowing firefighters to try to build containment lines, while military personnel are working to make isolated towns accessible by road.
With AAP, Benjamin Preiss
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org