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Residents Near Greece’s Fire-Struck Areas Advised to Mask Up

ATHENS – With plenty of masks at hand because of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents near dozens of areas across Greece struck by wildfires during a brutal heatwave are being urged to wear them outdoors to deal with smoke fallout.

That was the advice of scientists who said even people passing by those areas should mask up, especially those with respiratory or cardiac conditions, pregnant women, the elderly and young children.

That's because of a high concentration of harmful particles in the atmosphere combined with temperatures near 113 degrees to create a toxic brew, the smell of smoke blanketing Athens and other areas torched by fires.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said that the EKAV ambulance service received 77 calls between 4 p.m. on Aug. 3 and 8 a.m. On Aug. 4 from people with breathing difficulties, reported Kathimerini.

The Health Ministry and the National Observatory of Athens said people should stay indoors and recommended the use of masks N95, KN95 or FFP2 (high protection) that are the most effective, including against COVID-19.

Those types provide protection from harmful fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller (PM2.5), which through late on Aug. 4 were at high levels in Attica and the center of Athens.

Well-known Professor of Pulmonology Panagiotis Behrakis also said that the most susceptible should stay home with closed doors and windows despite the raging heat or to wear a high-quality mask if they go out.

He said children, because they are shorter, inhale the particles in greater concentrations, insisting they should not run or play outside. 

The Medical Association of Athens said that people, especially those with chronic conditions, should contact their doctor immediately if they experience shortness of breath and a persistent cough, the paper also said.

People with heart disease should call 166 and go to hospital emergency department if symptoms include any respiratory distress, chest pain, or general symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

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