Singapore endured its worst day of haze yesterday as air quality surged into hazardous territory for the first time, prompting government agencies to reach for contingency measures.
At 10pm last night, the Pollutant Standards Index stood at 321 - the highest in the country's history - as fires continued to rage in neighbouring Sumatra. The previous record was 226, in 1997.
Air becomes "very unhealthy" past the PSI's 200 mark and "hazardous" when it crosses 300.
In response to questions at an 11.30pm press conference last night, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the Manpower Ministry may issue a general stop-work order - but only if the haze situation worsens severely. A decision will also have to be made on whether to close childcare centres and schools.
The Ministry of Manpower will provide an update to employers today about what to do, while the Ministry of Health has also alerted hospitals to cope with a potential increase in patients with respiratory problems.
Dr Balakrishnan said the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) chief executive, Mr Andrew Tan, will lead a delegation to Indonesia today to an emergency haze meeting convened by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.
"We are now at the stage where nobody anywhere in the world should believe that they have a right to pollute, to take short cuts and to make money at the expense of people's health," Dr Balakrishnan said.
In Singapore, a 23-agency haze task force met on Tuesday to coordinate plans to reduce the haze's impact on people.
In a Facebook posting after 1.15am this morning, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was dismayed to see the PSI cross the 300 mark last night.
The Cabinet had discussed the haze situation fully yesterday but given the worsening situation, he will meet the relevant ministers first thing today, he said.
Urging people to stay indoors where possible and avoid heavy outdoor activity if the PSI stays high, he said: "Look out for one another - we will get through this together."
Raging fires in Indonesia - some started by companies to clear the land of vegetation - have led to the haze here.
The NEA has published high-resolution satellite photos of hot spots or fires in the region and will update this daily. The hope is that it will help identify some of the firms responsible for starting the blazes.
While Indonesia will attempt cloud-seeding - a method used to artificially create rain - to combat fires there, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore would not follow suit to reduce the smog here.
"For cloud-seeding to work, we need the clouds. Our meteorological service says we don't have enough cloud cover for that at the moment, but we will keep that option open," he said.
Meanwhile, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has stopped all outfield training indefinitely and all soldiers on duty have been given protective N95 face masks. Ground commanders have been reminded "to keep a close watch" on soldiers, said a spokesman on the SAF Facebook page. Other organisations here, such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force, reduced physical and outdoor training when the index crossed 100.
An SMRT spokesman said bus captains have also been reminded to drive safely due to reduced visibility on the roads, and maintenance work on its tracks was suspended last night.
Air traffic controllers at Changi Airport have also taken steps to ensure safety on the runway due to the poorer visibility, said a Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore spokesman earlier yesterday. "The controllers have increased the separation between flight takeoffs and landings as an added precautionary measure," she said.
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