Wide-ranging plans ready to cope with haze

Singapore shrouded in haze on June 20, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Singapore shrouded in haze on June 20, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP

Masks stockpiled, measures drawn up for schools and health institutions

SINGAPORE is prepared if the haze returns as feared in the next few months. Plans are in place at schools and health-care institutions, government agencies said in a joint reply to queries from The Straits Times.

The Inter-Agency Haze Task Force comprising 23 government agencies is also on alert.

After last year's chaos, when many people had difficulty obtaining N95 masks, the Government has stockpiled 16 million in case of shortages.

The Ministry of Health has also placed masks with distributors and the People's Association.

The Haze Subsidy Scheme to cap medical fees at $10 for haze-related conditions will be reinstated if necessary. It was introduced last year for vulnerable Singaporeans such as the elderly who visit participating polyclinics and general practitioners.

The Health Ministry has worked out "contingency plans... which aim to maintain patient safety, meet increased health- care demand and minimise disruption to medical services".

To protect students, schools will modify lessons as needed if the air becomes "very unhealthy".

The Ministry of Education will consider closing all primary and secondary schools to students if the air is expected to be "hazardous" the next day. Parents will be informed by telephone or SMS if schools are closed.

Kindergartens and childcare centres will follow suit.

Junior colleges, centralised institutes and other schools are also monitoring the haze situation. If necessary, outdoor activities will be postponed, cancelled or replaced with indoor activities.

Meanwhile, the Workplace Safety and Health Council and Singapore Contractors Association have reminded employers to follow Ministry of Manpower guidelines during the haze.

These include different protective measures for healthy workers, elderly and pregnant employees and those with chronic lung disease or heart ailments.

Guidelines include having rest breaks indoors when the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is in the "unhealthy" range.

However, "there is no pre-determined level at which all work would have to be stopped", said the government agencies' joint reply. "Essential services would still continue, although appropriate adjustments would be necessary."

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has warned several times that this year's haze could be even worse than last year's record pollution, when the three-hour PSI hit a hazardous 401 on June 21.

From June to October, some Indonesian farmers take advantage of the dry season to clear land illegally by setting fire to it, a practice blamed for the haze here.

Some scientists also expect the El Nino weather phenomenon, linked to droughts in South-east Asia, to worsen the fire risk.

Bank employee Harry Hay, 31, recently bought an air purifier and he and his wife have also stocked face masks. "We've put the air purifier in our infant son's room," he said. "Even if the haze doesn't come back, it's better to be safe."