ALOR SETAR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Close to 7,000 schools with almost four million students are closed on Monday (Oct 5) and Tuesday in Malaysia because of the worsening air quality over the peninsula.
Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid said schools in peninsula Malaysia, except those in Kelantan, were closed.
As for Kelantan, Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak, he said the ministry would monitor the air quality levels hourly before deciding on what to do with schools there.
"If the levels deteriorate in these four places, we will take the same steps," he told reporters at SMK Seri Ampang in Jalan Kuala Kedah on Sunday (Oct 4).
As at 2pm on Monday, many parts of Malaysia registered moderate or unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API). Sabah and Sarawak, however, saw good air quality.
The ministry directive affects 6,798 schools, which have a total enrolment of 3.7 million students and more than 300,000 teachers. All teachers and school staff, with the exception of security guards, have also been told to stay at home.
"This matter must be addressed correctly and quickly as it can harm our children in school," he said.
Datuk Seri Mahdzir said that schools ordered to close because of the haze need not replace classes.
He also announced that the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3, Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia examinations would not be postponed because of the haze.
"These examinations will be postponed only if the Air Pollutant Index (API) levels breach 500 or 'emergency' level," he said.
He said state education departments and schools should make arrangements to supply face masks to students sitting examinations.
Afternoon sessions of schools in Kedah, Terengganu and Johor continued as usual on Sunday but some schools recorded a low turnout due to rumours over social media that classes had been cancelled.
Between Sept 15 and 30, the Education Ministry closed 4,561 schools in nine states, affecting 2,617,432 students, as the API reading hit the unhealthy and very unhealthy levels.
The nine states were Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Pahang, Johor, Sarawak and Perak.
In Kuala Lumpur, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Selangor cancelled all classes because of the deteriorating air quality.
In a statement, it said the final examinations for diploma students would be carried out as scheduled, adding that staff were also required to attend work as normal.
"UiTM will continue to monitor the situation and keep the students notified from time to time.
"Announcement of any cancellation of classes will be made a day earlier," it said.
As for the campuses in other states, it said their heads would make the announcement.
The last time a state of emergency was declared over the haze in the peninsula was on Aug 11, 2005, and covered Kuala Selangor and Port Klang.
The API readings rose beyond the very hazardous level of more than 500 in the two areas.
Schools, government offices, businesses and the ports were closed but shops selling essential goods, supermarkets, clinics and pharmacies remained open.
The worst case of air pollution caused by the haze occurred in September 1997. An emergency was declared in Kuching and eastern areas of Sarawak when the API reading reached the extremely hazardous level of 839.