Government lays out measures to tackle effects of haze

Junction 8 mall in Bishan installed plastic curtains across its entrance to limit the haze entering the complex. Weather predictions held out hope that things could get better from Friday, when the wind pattern changes.
Junction 8 mall in Bishan installed plastic curtains across its entrance to limit the haze entering the complex. Weather predictions held out hope that things could get better from Friday, when the wind pattern changes.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Health subsidies and face masks for some; ministries outline contingency plans

The authorities are rolling out measures such as health subsidies and contingency plans for schools to mitigate the effects of the haze.

In the meantime, weather predictions held out hope that things could get better from Friday, when the wind pattern changes. Until they do, however, those under 18 or over 65, as well as low- to middle-income earners, can get subsidised treatment at over 450 general practitioner clinics and polyclinics for haze-related ailments.

The reinstatement of the Haze Subsidy Scheme was among measures announced at a joint briefing yesterday by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and various ministries and statutory boards.

The People's Association will distribute 30,000 face masks to vulnerable households comprising seniors and residents with medical conditions who live alone.

 

The Manpower Ministry also laid out guidelines for employers regarding contingency plans.

 

And the Education Ministry outlined the steps it would take if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) worsened, including closing schools if air quality reaches hazardous levels. A ministry spokesman said that in the event of a school closure, national examinations would be rescheduled and exam periods possibly extended.

But the NEA had good news that wind direction could change on Friday. Until then, however, hazy conditions are expected to persist, owing to dry weather and south- southwesterly winds blowing smoke haze from Sumatra.

In fact, conditions can still deteriorate if denser haze is blown in by unfavourable winds, the NEA said in a separate update on its website.

Today, the weather agency expects air quality to be in the mid to high sections of the unhealthy range, and warned it could even go up to the low section of the very unhealthy range. Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour PSI reading is in the range of 101 to 200, and very unhealthy when 24-hour PSI readings are between 201 and 300. When it crosses 300, air quality is deemed hazardous.

Yesterday's rain brought a temporary respite, with the 24-hour PSI staying between 114 and 138 as of 8pm. Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department said the respite from rain would be very brief unless it rains over hot spots to help firefighting efforts in Indonesia.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters after the briefing that Singapore was working to identify those responsible for causing the haze, and would not hesitate to take action.

He said Singaporeans had to be psychologically prepared as the haze situation is unpredictable.

•Additional reporting by Samantha Boh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Govt lays out measures to tackle effects of haze'. Print Edition | Subscribe