Thursday, 24 September 2015

Hazard! Singapore schools in emergency shutdown as air quality worsens


Singapore late today ordered emergency school closures as air pollution reached "hazardous" levels due to suffocating smoke from agricultural fires raging on a nearby Indonesian island.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the shutdown order for Friday will affect primary and secondary schools as well as kindergartens run by the ministry and special education schools.
Parents who cannot make alternative arrangements because of the short notice can still send their children to school, where they will be placed in air-conditioned rooms, he said, according to local media who attended a press briefing Thursday night.
Singapore's air quality steadily worsened during the day as thick smog blown in from forest fires on Indonesia's neighbouring island of Sumatra bore down on the city-state, which prides itself on its clean environment.
There were fewer people outdoors despite today being a public holiday and more residents were seen wearing face masks. Pizza Hut suspended its delivery service, citing "hazardous conditions caused by the haze".
The National Environment Agency said the haze situation could further worsen because of the prevailing winds.
"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," Foreign Minister K Shanmugam wrote on Facebook.
"The Singapore government takes the matter seriously. We stand ready to assist Indonesia in combatting the fires," he said.
A reading of the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index, showed the air quality deteriorating from "very unhealthy" earlier in the day to "hazardous".
The environment agency advised healthy persons to "avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion" and urged the elderly, pregnant women and children to minimise outdoor exposure.
Housewife Asnah Mohamad, 62, said she and her friend used their headscarfs to cover their face as they travelled to a mosque to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
"My husband cannot leave the house because he has a heart condition so I represented him to collect the meat offerings," she said referring to the festival in which Muslims share the meat of a goat or sheep slaughtered as sacrifices.
"We hope it gets better soon. But what can you do? Go over there (to Indonesia) and pour water on the fire?" The city-state has been cloaked in the haze in varying degrees for about three weeks, the worst such episode since mid-2013.
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