SINGAPORE - All primary and secondary schools across Singapore will close on Friday (Sept 25) due to worsening haze conditions which may cross into the hazardous level.
Kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and special education schools will also be closed.
Teachers, however, will still need to go to school to supervise students whose parents are not able to make alternative arrangements for them.
Schools will be contacting parents to inform them of the news via phone calls or SMS.
School-based care centres will remain open.
Other non-MOE kindergartens and child care centres will also remain open even though parents are encouraged to keep their child at home.
Similarly, junior colleges, centralised institutes and post-secondary education institutes, namely the universities, polytechnics and ITEs, will remain open.
Classes for these students, as well students in Year 5 and 6 of the Integrated Programme, will continue, as the students in these institutions are older, in accordance with the guidelines from the Ministry of Health's (MOH) haze health advisory.
The announcement was made during a media conference on Thursday night, which addressed public concern over the rapidly deteriorating air quality over the last two days.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat attended the media conference.
Following the release of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) 7pm forecast, MOE and MOH jointly decided on the schools closure to safeguard the well-being of the children.
Two national examinations - the GCE O-Level Music and Higher Music Practicals - scheduled on Friday will be postponed to next Tuesday (Sept 29).
Over 100 students will be affected, said Mr Heng. They will be informed through their schools.
The 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the very unhealthy range, and there is a possibility that air quality may even cross the hazardous 300-point mark, due to unfavourable winds blowing from the south-southeast or south-southwest, said NEA.
As of 9pm on Thursday (Sept 24), the 24-hour PSI was 219-270. The three-hour PSI, which is not tied to a health advisory, was 316.
Dr Balakrishnan said at the briefing: "It can get worse before it gets better. Therefore, we cannot exclude it being hazardous before it gets better. We cannot predict exactly but it is a cause for concern."
But there will be no national shutdown of workplaces.
Employers, however, must assess the risks involved, especially for those working outdoors, said Mr Lim.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry has a plan in place to ensure that there is an adequate supply of masks for bulk purchase by companies with employees who need to do strenuous or prolonged outdoor work.
Each company has an allocated quota specific to its needs.
Currently, there is also adequate supply of masks at NTUC Fairprice, Unity Healthcare and supermarkets under Dairy Farm Singapore.
The Government has also activated its stockpile and it is prepared to meet the request for replenishment of stocks from these retailers.
N95 masks will also be distributed on Friday to all eligible Singaporeans and permanent residents at 108 community centres across Singapore from 10am to 10pm.
Those eligible, who will receive two masks each, include holders of MOH's Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) Blue cards, Pioneer Generation Card holders, ComCare clients above the age of 62 and those who have been identified with long-term medical issues regardless of age.
Meanwhile, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it is closely monitoring the situation. Public transport operators will activate their haze management plans should the conditions worsen.
This includes reducing the speed of MRT trains running above ground in the event of poor visibility. As a precaution, it is already being done along the stretch between Admiralty and Marsiling stations.
SBS Transit and SMRT have issued N95 masks to their bus captains while reminding them to drive at a safe speed and to switch on their headlights in poor visibility.
LTA also said its Intelligent Transport System Control Centre would be keeping a close watch on road visibility, and will put up advisories when required to alert motorists to drive carefully.
Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, in a Facebook post on Thursday night, reiterated Singapore's offer to help Indonesia fight the forest fires.
He wrote: "We stand ready to assist Indonesia in combating the fires.
"Last year, we introduced legislation to allow us to prosecute companies found to be causing or contributing to the haze. And we will not hesitate to take such actions against those errant companies."
But he also noted that while the Indonesian government has said it is taking steps to deal with the problem, some shocking statements were made at senior levels from Indonesia, "with a complete disregard for our people, and their own".
He did not refer to specific statements in his Facebook post.
He wrote: "How is it possible for senior people in government to issue such statements, without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any embarrassment, or sense of responsibility?"