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(AUSTRALIA) #Coronavirus Report: VICTORIA: Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton was asked last week about whether ventilation in the state needed improvement, his answer caught the attention of leading scientists around the country #AceHealthDesk report

#AceHealthReport – Aug.26: We’ve got a huge bit of work to do with ventilation across the board in so many indoor settings,” Professor Sutton said….

#CoronavirusNewsDesk says Australia’s air quality culture criticised as experts point to ventilation as key in #COVID19 fight and an outbreak in S.A. medi-hotels last year was linked to poor ventilation, with SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicole Spurrier blaming the lack of air exchange in hotel corridors.

“The reality is there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of indoor settings that need infrastructural change in order to be well ventilated. That can’t happen overnight.”

It was a statement that rankled Lidia Morawska, Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at the Queensland University of Technology.

“Stating that it can’t be done overnight … is like putting your head in the sand,” she said.

Professor Morawska has spent her career researching air quality and pollution around the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought her work to the forefront as the world comes to terms with the airborne nature of the virus.

There was initial reluctance to state outright that COVID was transmissible by air.

“There hasn’t been any confusion between scientists about this,” Professor Morawska said.

“Where the resistance has been is from the public health authorities, including the WHO.”

Professor Morawska is a consultant to the World Health Organisation, who only formally acknowledged aerosol spread the COVID-19 in April of this year, 13 months after it declared a pandemic.

Professor Morawska believes the reluctance to acknowledge airborne transmission may have been political in nature.

“It’s much easier to tell people to wear a mask or stay at a distance from others, because then it puts responsibility onto people,” she said.

“If they admit airborne transmission is significant then building and engineering measures, in particular ventilation, have to be taken onboard. Then the government needs to do something.”

Professor Lidia Morawska
Professor Morawska says the refusal to acknowledge airborne COVID transmission had nothing to do with science.(Supplied)

Professor Morawska says she has petitioned both federal and state governments over air quality and ventilation, often without a reply.

“The responses were that basically ‘everything is done properly and it’s fine’,” she said.

But the cost of Australia’s poor air quality may come back to haunt it in other ways.

“The politicians have all the data on how much it costs not to have good air quality,” Professor Morawska said.

“[Politicians know] how much every lockdown now costs. Many of these lockdowns could have been prevented if ventilation was better and if transmission did not occur in unventilated spaces.

“The issue of the cost is that we are paying a much, much bigger cost as a society and a country if we are not doing anything about inadequate air and air pollution.”

In a statement to the ABC, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services said further guiding principles for ventilation in non-healthcare settings were currently in development.

The department also said assessments of ventilation were routinely undertaken in both exposure sites and locations where people are quarantining to determine how airflow can best be optimised.

But some areas in the community are still presenting a risk in airborne transmission of viruses.

Venues that rely on natural ventilation pose notable health risks when doors and windows are closed to keep out the elements, trapping contaminated air inside.

Play Audio. Duration: 4 minutes 49 seconds

Locations where people spend longer periods of time have also been flagged as danger spots for airborne transmission.

“Restaurants are a particular problem. Even if masks are mandated in the state, they’re not worn in restaurants,” Professor Morawska said.

“We spend in this unventilated space one hour or two hours, and these restaurants are often full to capacity.”

In cases such as the Ms Frankie cafe outbreak in July and the Smile Buffalo Thai Black Rock outbreak in January, the solution may be specialised air filtration equipment.

Rick Stanley is the owner and engineer at Sanctuary Air, a company in Melbourne’s north specialising in medical grade air filters.

“A proper HEPA [high-efficiency particulate absorbing] filter is perfectly capable of trapping a virus, ” Mr Stanley said.

He asserts that it is possibe to reduce the COVID risk by filtering the aerosol.

He says HEPA filters are capable of eliminating particles that are fractions of a micron in size. For reference, the average human hair is 70 microns wide.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, HEPA filters are “no less than 99.97 per cent efficient at capturing human-generated viral particles” associated with coronavirus.

“The probability of those sub micron particles making it through the filter is almost zero,” Mr Stanley said.

HEPA filters are also able to catch other bacterial pathogens, such as the ones that caused an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease this month in the Cranbourne East area.

“There will be an 80 to 90 per cent reduction in the airborne particles,” Mr Stanley said.

A white metallic air filter
Air filters work through a dual process of sieving and diffusion, filtering out particles smaller than the eye can see.(Supplied: Sanctuary Air)

But a mass roll out of HEPA filters faces major limiting factors.

There is a critical supply shortage for components for an air filtration system, with Mr Stanley admitting he’s worried about the long lead time for parts.

Orders for fans and filters placed in January still have not arrived.

Installation is expensive, with the fit-out of a regular Victorian home costing thousands of dollars and taking up to a month.

Mr Stanley admits it could take weeks or even months to fully install an air filtration system in a facility such as CS Square, which developed as a major hotspot in the latest Delta strain outbreak.

The nature of air purification also means more intensive filtration is required if pollutants are continually reintroduced.

“The way a purifier works, it’s a competition between the supply of clean air and the supply of pollutants,” Mr Stanley said.

“Let’s say you have an infected person in a shared office. You can clean up the aerosols, but [the infected person] continues to release the virus.”

It makes areas with high amounts of infected people such as hospitals a major ventilation challenge.

A Victorian Government audit leaked in June found that almost 50 per cent of hospital isolation rooms in the state failed to meet ventilation guidelines.

And 11 per cent of Victorians hospitalised with COVID-19 last yearcaught the virus while already in hospital.

When asked about the issue of ventilation, Health Minister Martin Foley said the Victorian Health building authority had already commenced implementing a substantial range of measures to bring the state’s health facilities up to standard.

However, the Minister acknowledged more work was needed in the space.

“It’s barely scratching the surface of the work that needs to be done nationally,” Mr Foley said.

“Victoria strongly supports the calls for the Commonwealth to take a greater lead in this space, given that the building regulations are a nationally regulated area.”

As far as Professor Morawska is concerned, the clock is ticking on Australia’s air supply.

“Every week of delay in telling Australians that ventilation is important is just exposing Australians to more transmission.”

#AceHealthDesk report ……Published: Aug.26: 2021:

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