Malaysia for the first time ordered schools in northern states Kedah and Perlis to close today and tomorrow due to extremely hot weather.
Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid said the decision was reached after a discussion across ministries.
"It will be decided on Wednesday if schools will remain closed," he told reporters.
Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan said replacement classes were not needed at the moment for the missed school days but if there was an increase in school closures, the ministry will consider it.
The current heatwave has seen temperatures in the north of the country soaring to 38 or 39 deg C in the past week, according to Accuweather.com.
Two heatwave-related medical cases were recorded yesterday in a district in the south-east of Kedah, state health director Norhizan Ismail said in a statement.
FEELING THE HEAT
One just has to drive from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort to see the effects of the El Nino, including the area scorched by fire in Papar.
DR FREDOLIN TANGANG, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia climatology and oceanography expert.
"Both cases were diagnosed as heat exhaustion," he said.
Four states in the peninsula and Sabah recorded the highest temperature readings in the country on Sunday, on the day of the equinox, according to The Star daily yesterday.
It identified them as Chuping in Perlis (39.5 deg C), Alor Setar in Kedah (39.1 deg C), Ipoh in Perak (37.5 deg C) and Temerloh in Pahang (37.4 deg C) as well as Keningau (37 deg C) in Sabah.
"The readings almost reached danger level, 40 deg C, which can cause heatstroke," the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Datuk Madius Tangau, was quoted as saying in Sabah.
He said the ministry would continue to monitor developments and share updates on the weather for the attention and action of other ministries as well as the public.
Sabah is bearing the brunt of the current El Nino phenomenon which has sent the mercury soaring with little or no prospect of rain.
Experts have equated this year's El Nino with the punishing hot spell in 1997 and 1998 which brought drought and triggered water rationing.
"One just has to drive from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort to see the effects of the El Nino, including the area scorched by fire in Papar," said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) climatology and oceanography expert Fredolin Tangang.
Dr Tagang said northern Sarawak and Sabah were already in the grip of a drought and there was a 50 per cent chance of one in Peninsular Malaysia.
He also attributed the haze in the Klang Valley to the dry weather, open burning and local bush fires.
The Air Pollutant Index reached unhealthy levels in Cheras (151) Shah Alam (129) and Batu Muda (106) on Saturday.
Terengganu has seen an average of about 10 peat fires a day due to scorching heat.
Malaysia's Meteorological Department director-general Che Gayah Ismail was optimistic though that respite may be on the way.
The El Nino phenomenon was already weakening and inter-monsoon rains can be expected from early next month, she said.
The Cabinet had earlier set up a special committee to monitor the heatwave situation and execute action plans to tackle the situation.
- Additional information from The Star/ Asia News Network