Nearly four million Malaysian schoolchildren stayed home yesterday as haze levels breached the 300 "hazardous" mark, even as Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Indonesia to do more.
Haze pollution climbed to unhealthy levels in several key areas yesterday, including Penang and Ipoh, while it rose to "hazardous" levels in Shah Alam.
The Prime Minister said a close tripartite cooperation between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore was necessary to formulate more effective measures to tackle the annual health menace, which is affecting the Malaysian economy.
"They (plantation companies) are operating there, we want Indonesia to take action... only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies concerned," Datuk Seri Najib, who spoke to reporters in Milan, was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.
The Education Ministry closed nearly 7,000 schools across Peninsular Malaysia, except in Kelantan, for two days from yesterday.
The recent school closures have caused concern among parents and teachers that students were missing out on crucial lessons pending important year-end exams.
But National Parent-Teacher Association Collaborative Council president Mohamad Ali Hassan told The Straits Times: "It is almost October and the teachers should have completed almost 95 per cent of the syllabus. It is better from a health perspective for students to study at home and stay indoors rather than loiter in school, especially when children are more prone to illnesses."
Working adults vented their frustrations at the air quality affecting their lifestyles, and outdoor business vendors have had no choice but to hawk their wares while breathing in hazardous particles.
Lecturer Lilian Leong Swee Yoke, 35, whose eyes have been stinging owing to the haze, has chosen to cut down on exercising, even indoors, to avoid inhaling more haze particles.
"Some patients with asthma, whom I have not seen for years, are suddenly returning to me after having had an attack," Dr J.S. Manocha, a physician at a clinic in Kuala Lumpur, told The Straits Times.
The haze has also resulted in the cancellation of the popular annual Standard Chartered KL marathon and flight delays at several airports.
Meanwhile, in South Sumatra province, the pollution index fluctuated yesterday as more troops and water-bombing helicopters were deployed. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Palembang, capital of South Sumatra, reached a high of 903 at 5am before dropping to 411 at 6pm. Anything above 350 is considered hazardous.
Palangkaraya, capital of Central Kalimantan province, where schools have been forced to close for more than three weeks, had a PSI of 1,687 at 6pm, after rising to 1,953 at 2pm.
• Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta