Haze returns

Masks fly off shop shelves as smoke shrouds S'pore

Retailers scramble to restock supplies as air quality today likely to be in unhealthy range

Hazy skies at 11am in Jalan Satu in the eastern part of Singapore.
Many in the streets are seen wearing masks or covering their mouths and noses with cloth yesterday.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI
Many in the streets are seen wearing masks or covering their mouths and noses with cloth yesterday.
Hazy skies at 11am in Jalan Satu in the eastern part of Singapore.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Grey skies and a familiar burning smell greeted Singaporeans yesterday morning as the haze made a return.

On the streets, people young and old were seen wearing face masks, while others held cloth over their mouths and noses. The sudden spike in demand for N95 masks yesterday caught retailers by surprise, with some shops running out of stock in the middle of the day.

N95 masks can filter out fine particles found in the haze.

Air quality is forecast to be in the unhealthy range today, the National Environment Agency said. Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is in the range of 101 to 200, and hazardous when it is above 300.

It was between 84 and 114 at 7pm yesterday, with western Singapore registering the highest reading.

Accountant Muhammad Kader, 26, said he might cancel his plans to visit the Singapore Night Festival this weekend if the haze worsens. "It's quite bad. The haze just came overnight," he said.

The sudden onset of haze prompted at least one school, Methodist Girls' School, to issue an advisory to parents on the precautions it has put in place. This included switching on air purifiers in classrooms when air quality hits the unhealthy or elevated range.

Many people took to social media to share photographs of skylines shrouded in smoke, from Jurong in the west to Katong in the east.

Taxi driver Francis Ong, 65, said he figured it was the start of the hazy season when he woke up to the smell of smoke. "I'll try to stay indoors because it's difficult to breathe outside," he said.

Yesterday, some 2,300 free haze kits given out by Guardian pharmacy - which included an N95 mask and a bottle of water - were snapped up by 2pm. Sales of masks also soared. "Although we were prepared for the haze to return and had arranged for a good level of stocks at all stores, the speed of the demand spike resulted in most stores running out of stock very fast," said Guardian's chief executive, Ms Sarah Boyd.

The pharmacy has arranged for emergency deliveries of masks, lozenges, eye drops and analgesics to some stores over the next two to three days.

Shopping site Lazada, which noticed a spike in sales of air purifiers and N95 masks, has launched a campaign that offers next-day delivery of these items. Delivery usually takes two to three days.

Singapore Post issued masks and eye drops to its outdoor delivery staff and temporarily redeployed those with respiratory or heart conditions or who are above 65 years of age to indoor work.

Still, the haze did not stop ardent fans of location-based augmented reality game Pokemon Go. They were spotted out and about in a Pokemon hot spot in Hougang.

Singapore suffered one of its worst bouts of haze last year.

In September, readings reached hazardous levels, leading to the closure of primary and secondary schools for a day.

•Additional reporting by Rahimah Beghum Abdul Rashith

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Masks fly off shop shelves as smoke shrouds S'pore'. Subscribe