Haze forces closure of schools across Singapore

Unprecedented move due to possibility of PSI hitting hazardous levels: Heng Swee Keat

Shoppers put on masks in Orchard Road yesterday afternoon. At 10pm, the 24-hour PSI had soared to 223-275. Beyond 300, it is hazardous.
Shoppers put on masks in Orchard Road yesterday afternoon. At 10pm, the 24-hour PSI had soared to 223-275. Beyond 300, it is hazardous. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

All primary and secondary schools in Singapore have been forced to close today, after hazy conditions - the worst this year - threatened to become hazardous.

PSI levels yesterday crossed into the very unhealthy range. At 10pm, the 24-hour PSI had soared to 223- 275. Beyond 300, it is hazardous.

This is the first time Singapore's schools are being closed due to the haze.

The decision was made "given the prediction that we cannot rule out the possibility of the haze condition getting into the hazardous range," said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat last night, at a multi-agency briefing also attended by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

Some GCE O-level exams set for today have been postponed, while the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) hangs in the balance, as written papers are set to begin next week.

"There will be no national shutdown of workplaces," said Mr Lim, though he added that companies should take measures to help employees, such as enforcing more frequent breaks and making work less strenuous.

The Government is also adding to earlier measures to help people cope with the haze: vulnerable and needy Singaporeans will be able to collect masks from 108 community centres islandwide from 10am to 10pm from today.

Organisations are already taking steps to safeguard members of the public and workers.

The Singapore Sports Hub, for example, suspended strenuous outdoor activities and fast-food restaurants like McDonald's and KFC halted delivery services for now.

There might be some respite over the weekend, as winds are forecast to shift.

But the hazy conditions might last for another month or more, as this is an El Nino year which could see dry weather until November, warned Dr Balakrishnan.

"Our offer of assistance to (the Indonesian authorities) is still on the table, and we still stand ready to work with our Asean partners to resolve this problem," he reiterated.

Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam affirmed this stance and described his observations in a Facebook post last night. He wrote: "As I walked around, the impact of the haze, on people, was obvious. I was coughing, eyes itching, the heat oppressive. Our senior citizens must be feeling much worse."

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who was visiting emergency workers in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan on Wednesday, had planned to inspect ground conditions and firefighting efforts in Sumatra yesterday but worsening conditions in Kalimantan prompted him to postpone the trip.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reminded people to take care of their health.

In a Facebook post yesterday, he wrote: "Please drink plenty of water, and avoid going outdoors if you can. Look out for neighbours and friends, and stay safe."

•Additional reporting by Francis Chan and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline Haze forces closure of schools across Singapore. Subscribe