Haze unlikely to improve until Friday; haze subsidy scheme to kick in tomorrow, 30,000 care packs to be given out

The view from The Pinnacle@Duxton at 6.45pm on Sept 14, 2015.
The view from The Pinnacle@Duxton at 6.45pm on Sept 14, 2015.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Air quality will continue to be in the mid to high section of the unhealthy range for the next 24 hours, said officials on Tuesday, as the Government announced it will roll out measures, such as handing out haze care packs to vulnerable households.

The situation, however, is expected to improve on Friday (Sept 18) when the wind patterns change.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who spoke to reporters after the briefing, said he does not expect the situation to be as bad as that in 2013, when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) peaked at the hazardous level of 401.

At the joint briefing, officials said the haze situation is likely to persist for the next 24 hours because of dry weather conditions. A storm in the South China Sea has brought a shift in the winds, which are blowing from the south-west, bringing the haze towards Singapore.

But it may improve on Friday when the typhoon moves onshore and wind patterns are expected to change. Improvement is expected when winds blow from south-east on Friday or Saturday.

Meanwhile, to help Singaporeans affected by haze, the Government will reactivate from Wednesday (Sept 16) the Haze Subsidy Scheme, which caps medical fees for haze-related conditions for elderly and lower-income groups.

There has been a 7-8 per cent increase in polyclinic visits for respiratory conditions on Monday compared to the past three Mondays before the September school holidays which began on Sept 7, said officials at the briefing.

 

The subsidies are available at more than 450 public health preparedness clinics (PHPC) and polyclinics. Participating clinics can be identified by the PHPC logo or the haze subsidy scheme poster.

Under the scheme, pioneers pay no more than $5, and public assistance card holders will be fully subsidised. Other eligible patients pay no more than $10.

Those aged 18 and below, elderly aged 65 and above, and Singaporeans on assistance schemes are eligible. Singaporeans who earn less than $1,800 a month can get the subsidies based on self-declaration.

The People's Association (PA) will also be distributing 30,000 WeCare packs to vulnerable families.

 

The pack will contain N95 masks, vitamin C tablets, and non-perishable food items such as instant noodles and canned food. They will be distributed by next Tuesday. The WeCare Pack scheme was started in 2013.

If the haze worsens, the PA will open the air-conditioned rooms in community centres and residents' committees to residents, especially students who are studying for examinations.

For schools, the Education Ministry will consider halting classes if the 24-hour PSI crosses into the hazardous range of above 300. For school closure, the ministry will decide based on the 6pm PSI forecast.

All schools are equipped with air purifiers, and there are sufficient enclosed places for students, said officials at the briefing.

Dr Balakrishnan, at a doorstop interview after the briefing, listed out the Government's three objectives.

"One, protect our population, two, work with the Indonesians to put out the fires, and identify the culprits, three, to send an unequivocal signal to all the companies involved in this business that we will not hesitate to take full action under the law that we passed last year against them," he said.

He is referring to the Transboundary Haze Bill which allows Singapore to penalise errant companies that cause haze.

No companies have been prosecuted under this Act yet, but the minister has asked his Indonesian counterpart for the names of companies suspected of causing the fires.

He also said that cloud seeding is ineffective in dealing with the haze as Singapore is too small.

"Even if we seed our clouds, clouds may move elsewhere and rain somewhere else," he said, adding that any respite from the rain is temporary.

The south-west monsoon is expected to last till mid-October, and Singapore will experience haze intermittently when winds blow from the south and south-west.

The El Nino effect this year is also expected to be strong. Currently, it is of moderate to strong intensity.

The El Nino, which reduces rainfall in South-east Asia and causes hot and dry weather, means forests burn more readily.

Four hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Tuesday. The low count was due to partial satellite pass and cloud cover, the National Environment Agency said in an update at around 8.30pm.