Don't hold your breath, face masks are here
Less panic about haze as Singaporeans more prepared this time
When the haze was at its worst in 2013, she took no chances and rushed to buy face masks, collecting more than 200 of them for her family and friends.
This time, however, piano teacher Ng Siew In, 65, is not rushing to get them any more. She still has about 100 masks at home.
Said Madam Ng: "I'm glad that the haze is not as bad as the last time. But it is still unhealthy, and I am still not taking any chances."
Since 2013 when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) peaked at the "hazardous" level of 401, many Singaporeans like Madam Ng have made early preparations.
Polytechnic student Daryl Kiang Jun, 19, whose family also has stock of unused masks, said they were not worried, although he has a history of asthma
Mr Kiang said: "The haze makes it harder to breathe because my airway will constrict a bit, but it won't trigger my asthma unless I'm already coughing. I am not too worried but I try to avoid going outdoors."
According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the three-hour PSI at 9pm yesterday reached a two-year high of 249.
The NEA haze microsite was even down for about half an hour from 8.15pm, due to "heavy traffic" as Singaporeans went online to check the PSI.
An NEA spokesman apologised for the inconvenience.
Face mask distributors told The New Paper that demand is not as high as in 2013 when the N95 masks were sold out in mid-June before retailers got new stocks.
Gin Huat Industrial Suppliers and QSS Safety Products told TNP they still have stocks of the 3M brand of N95 masks.
QSS customer service officer Susan Hong said: "We have stockpiled since the shortage two years ago."
This has kept the cost of the masks stable as well. QSS is selling masks at $28 for a box of 20. In 2013, the same box was sold for as high as $42.
Retailers also said that they had ample stocks. Pharmacist John Leow said: "People have stocked up and there is less panic."
But experts said this does not mean that the haze is to be taken lightly.
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that while people have got used to the haze, it could still be a problem.
He added: "Beyond a certain threshold, people may become worried again, especially if the haze directly affects the people around them."
The haze has also caused an uptick in flu cases.
General practitioner at MW Medical Centre Dr Madeline Chew said that she has been seeing an increase in patients with flu or flu-like symptoms over the past few weeks.
She said: "The haze is a contributory reason but the flu virus is also rather prevalent this year. A combination of the two results in a rise in the number of flu cases".
Madam Ng said she and her family will continue to wear the face masks.
She said: "Back then (in 2013) it was really horrible. The haze caused me to be depressed because I could not even go out."
- Additional reporting by Melanie Heng, Seow Yun Rong and Siti Nur Aisha Omar
Indonesia declares state of emergency
FIERY: A blaze near trees in a peatland area on the outskirts of Palembang on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Sept 9. The thick haze from Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan islands has forced cancellation of flights in the area and pushed air quality to unhealthy levels in Singapore and Malaysia. PHOTO: REUTERS
As millions in Sumatra and Kalimantan are slowly strangled by the strengthening grip of a choking haze, the Indonesian government sent 14 helicopters to help put out forest fires.
The air quality in these areas had recorded hazardous levels.
This comes as Indonesia yesterday declared a state of emergency in Riau province on Sumatra island, which was choked with thick haze.
The helicopters water-bombed raging forest fires that have also cloaked Singapore and Malaysia with haze.
The Indonesian helicopters were dumping water on blazes on west Sumatra and Kalimantan in the Indonesian part of Borneo island, reported AFP.
Authorities had struggled last week to start such operations as the haze was so thick that it was too dangerous for aircraft to fly.
As of late Sunday, more than 1,100 "hotspots" - areas with high temperatures that are either already on fire or likely to soon go up in flames - were detected by satellites on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo, said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
Last Friday, Indonesia said more than 1,000 troops would be sent to fight the fire, but they face a tough task.
"Even when the blazes are successfully extinguished, people then start new fires," Mr Nugroho said, adding that the police were investigating 26 companies and scores of people over the illegal fires.
In Malaysia, 29 areas nationwide recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings at 10am yesterday, reported The Straits Times.
The affected locations in the peninsula are Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, according to the Department of Environment's website.
In Malaysia's API readings 0-50 is categorised as good, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy) and 301 and above (hazardous).
Yesterday, Malaysia's education ministry said schools must be closed once the Air Pollutant Index (API) exceeds 200, reported The Star newspaper.
In a statement yesterday, it also said that schools must not carry out activities outside the classrooms when the API is more than 150.
"Heads of schools must inform the district education office and state education departments if there is a need to close their schools," it said.
HAZE 'UNHEALTHY' TODAY
The 24-hour PSI today is expected to be in the mid to high sections of the Unhealthy range (101 to 200).
It may enter the low section of the Very Unhealthy range (201 to 300) if denser haze from Sumatra is blowing in, the National Environment Agency said yesterday.
Healthy persons should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise outdoor activity, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid outdoor activity, it said.
S'pore raises concern with Indonesia, offers help again
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan spoke with his Indonesian counterpart yesterday afternoon as a follow-up to his letter last week.
Dr Balakrishnan again expressed his concern to Minister of Environment and Forestry Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar over the serious haze situation and reiterated Singapore's offer of help, the National Environment Agency said in an update on its website.
Dr Siti Nurbaya explained that the Indonesian authorities had already deployed a host of resources, including aircraft and helicopters as well as military and police forces, to control the fires and conduct law enforcement.
But she said she will consult again with Indonesian President Joko Widodo who is personally overseeing the effort.
Dr Siti Nurbaya also agreed with Dr Balakrishnan's request to share the names of companies which are suspected to be causing the fires, once they were able to confirm the information.