Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Government lays out measures to tackle effects of haze

Health subsidies and face masks for some; ministries outline contingency plans
By Audrey Tan and Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2015

The authorities are rolling out measures such as health subsidies and contingency plans for schools to mitigate the effects of the haze.

In the meantime, weather predictions held out hope that things could get better from Friday, when the wind pattern changes. Until they do, however, those under 18 or over 65, as well as low- to middle-income earners, can get subsidised treatment at over 450 general practitioner clinics and polyclinics for haze-related ailments.

The reinstatement of the Haze Subsidy Scheme was among measures announced at a joint briefing yesterday by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and various ministries and statutory boards.


The People's Association will distribute 30,000 face masks to vulnerable households comprising seniors and residents with medical conditions who live alone.



The Manpower Ministry also laid out guidelines for employers regarding contingency plans.

And the Education Ministry outlined the steps it would take if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) worsened, including closing schools if air quality reaches hazardous levels. A ministry spokesman said that in the event of a school closure, national examinations would be rescheduled and exam periods possibly extended.

But the NEA had good news that wind direction could change on Friday. Until then, however, hazy conditions are expected to persist, owing to dry weather and south- southwesterly winds blowing smoke haze from Sumatra.

In fact, conditions can still deteriorate if denser haze is blown in by unfavourable winds, the NEA said in a separate update on its website.

Today, the weather agency expects air quality to be in the mid to high sections of the unhealthy range, and warned it could even go up to the low section of the very unhealthy range. Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour PSI reading is in the range of 101 to 200, and very unhealthy when 24-hour PSI readings are between 201 and 300. When it crosses 300, air quality is deemed hazardous.

Yesterday's rain brought a temporary respite, with the 24-hour PSI staying between 114 and 138 as of 8pm. Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department said the respite from rain would be very brief unless it rains over hot spots to help firefighting efforts in Indonesia.



Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters after the briefing that Singapore was working to identify those responsible for causing the haze, and would not hesitate to take action.

He said Singaporeans had to be psychologically prepared as the haze situation is unpredictable.

Additional reporting by Samantha Boh









The number of hotspots have increased to several hundreds and Indonesia has declared a haze emergency in Sumatra’s Riau...
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday, September 15, 2015










Have you been receiving conspiratorial messages via FB, SMS or WhatsApp about the haze? I have. E.g on cloud seeding to...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Wednesday, September 16, 2015






Some official measures in place
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2015


STUDENTS

Schools will minimise outdoor activities if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is above 100, and cancel all physical activities if it goes above 200.

If air quality hits hazardous levels with a PSI reading of above 300 during school hours, lessons will be scaled down and students kept indoors. If hazardous levels are forecast for the next day, schools may be closed. National exams will be rescheduled and exam periods extended if needed.

School Continuity Plan for Haze Situation:Schools re-open for Term 4 tomorrow. MOE and schools will take mitigation...
Posted by Ministry of Education, Singapore on Sunday, September 13, 2015




PATIENTS

The Haze Subsidy Scheme, which subsidises treatment for haze-related conditions at participating general practitioners and polyclinics, has been restarted from today.

Those in the Pioneer Generation pay up to $5; other eligible Singaporeans, such as low- or middle-income earners and children, pay up to $10.

Participating GPs will display a Public Health Preparedness Clinic logo.

The list of clinics is also available on www.moh.gov.sg/haze

From 16 September 2015, children, the elderly and lower and middle-income Singaporeans will be able to receive...
Posted by Ministry of Health on Tuesday, September 15, 2015




WORKERS

The Manpower Ministry, together with the Singapore National Employers Federation and National Trades Union Congress, has issued an advisory to help firms better implement haze-related contingency plans.

Employers can visit www.mom.gov.sg/haze for information on leave and salary matters.



SOLDIERS

The Singapore Armed Forces will scale down physical and outdoor activities if the 24-hour PSI exceeds 100. Military personnel who are performing essential outdoor duties will be issued with N95 masks when the PSI exceeds 300.





HOUSEHOLDS

The People's Association will distribute 30,000 care packages to vulnerable households, such as those with seniors who have respiratory conditions. The package includes an N95 mask and non-perishable food like instant noodles and Vitamin C tablets.

Over the past week, many residents have approached our grassroots volunteers to express their concern for their...
Posted by The People's Association on Thursday, September 17, 2015










Help for households, seniors to cope with haze
By Audrey Tan and Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2015

Nearly 60,000 households and senior citizens will get equipment to cope with the haze, as air quality remained in the unhealthy range for most of yesterday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off two nationwide distribution exercises that will provide items such as N95 masks and eyedrops to those who need them to combat the haze.



First, he distributed special N95 masks to about 100 seniors at a senior activity centre in Ang Mo Kio, as part of a $300,000 initiative by Temasek Cares - the non-profit, philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings - and home-grown engineering firm ST Engineering.

The AIR+ Smart Masks are N95 masks that come in three sizes, designed by ST Engineering subsidiary Innosparks. They can also be fitted with a detachable and rechargeable ventilator that improves air flow through the mask and makes them more comfortable.

About 29,000 masks and 6,000 micro ventilators will be distributed to the 60 senior activity centres across Singapore by the weekend.

Visited the COMNET @ Teck Ghee Senior Activity Centre earlier this evening to distribute Smart Masks and WeCare PAcks to...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Mr Lee also launched the distribution of the People's Association (PA) WeCare PAcks, which will go to 30,000 vulnerable households, mainly seniors and residents with medical conditions who live alone. Each pack comes with items, such as N95 masks and instant noodles, donated by FairPrice Foundation and the local business community.

PA chief executive director Ang Hak Seng said that after Singapore experienced its worst haze two years ago, the PA updated its database to make sure vulnerable residents would receive the help they need. The packs will be distributed within a week.

Air quality in Singapore was slightly better yesterday than it has been for much of the week, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hovering in the low end of the unhealthy range. The National Environment Agency has said wind direction could change tomorrow, which would ease the haze.

Non-governmental groups and individuals are also playing a part.

Environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore, working with volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze and the non-government Singapore Institute of International Affairs, has started a campaign to raise awareness of the haze.

Volunteers were in places such as Orchard Road to distribute masks, and encourage people to switch to brands that use sustainable palm oil, grown without hurting wildlife or cutting primary and high-conservation-value forests.

Another group, Stand Up For Our Singapore, started a crowdfunding drive on Monday night to raise funds to buy air filters and air purifiers for the low-income elderly in North Bridge Road. Over $4,000 was raised within the first 24 hours.

Additional reporting by Seow Bei Yi





Firms take steps to protect employees
Some issue N95 masks and give PSI updates; malls and pre-schools also take action
By Samantha Boh ,Priscilla Goy ,Linette Lai And Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2015

Many organisations here have already taken steps, such as issuing masks or adjusting outdoor activities, to cope with the haze.

At 8pm yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was between 114 and 138, putting it in the unhealthy range.

SingPost issued N95 masks and eye drops to its delivery personnel; staff older than 65 or who have respiratory and heart conditions were redeployed to do indoor work.

Delivery firm foodpanda Singapore also issued masks and antiseptic wet tissues to its delivery drivers.

"Riders have been advised to inform their manager immediately if they feel unwell, and are instructed to rest until their symptoms ease," said Ms Emma Heap, managing director of foodpanda Singapore.

Security firms such as Certis Cisco and Force-One Security have also taken steps to protect employees.

Apart from N95 masks, Certis Cisco also issues hourly PSI updates and advisories. "When the PSI reaches hazardous levels, outdoor patrols may be temporarily suspended," said its spokesman.

Meanwhile, Force-One Security has issued its "Haze Carepack", comprising masks, wet wipes, hand sanitiser sachets and brochures on how to wear a mask properly and how to keep healthy.

Malls under CapitaLand and Frasers Centrepoint closed all outdoor features such as playgrounds and cancelled all outdoor activities at their mall premises when the air quality turned unhealthy.

They have also stepped up checks on their air-conditioning filters to ensure they are running optimally.

"To maintain the air quality, we will also lock the automatic sliding doors and direct shoppers and tenants to use the manually operated side doors when the PSI readings exceed 150," added Mr Jason Loy, head of operations for Singapore at CapitaLand Mall Asia.

Those who are feeling unwell can also obtain haze kits comprising masks and water bottles from the customer service counters at CapitaLand malls.

Meanwhile, the Early Childhood Development Agency has issued an advisory to pre-schools. It lists haze management measures including minimising outdoor activities, and modifying indoor programmes to be less physically intensive once the 24-hour PSI hits unhealthy levels of 101 to 200.

Over at NTUC's My First Skool, school principalshave also been watching out for pupils who are unwell. Portable air purifiers may also be deployed if needed.

On Monday, a surge in traffic on the National Environment Agency's haze microsite caused it to crash for three hours.

There had been around 40,000 searches per second on the website before it crashed, about 40 to 50 times the number before the haze season started.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources said yesterday that it has since put in place new software to try and prevent further crashes.

However, the haze microsite was down again last night.









Firms act to protect staff as haze looks set to linger
They issue protective gear, offer option to work from home or modify their operations
By Joyce Lim and Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

Many firms have stepped up safety measures to protect staff amid the worsening haze.

Issuing protective gear, changing operations and offering the option to work from home are among a range of steps that bosses are taking to minimise disruption to their businesses.

Construction firms told The Straits Times that they have stocked up on masks and respirators for workers exposed to long hours outdoors.

They also say they are tracking the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) and will stop work once it hits a hazardous level.

"We are monitoring the situation closely and we will follow the ministry's guidelines to defer non-essential work when the PSI level exceeds 300," said Mr Alvin Tang, project manager of Chong Brothers General Contractor.

Around 50 workers at a construction site in Pioneer Road were given masks before they started their outdoor work yesterday morning, said Mr Tang, adding that he has reminded staff to alert their supervisors if they are unwell.

A SembMarine spokesman said the firm will minimise outdoor activities in severe haze conditions by redeploying workers indoors.

A Rotary Engineering spokesman said job rotation and more frequent breaks will be enforced if the haze persists over long periods.

Employees will also be allowed to work from home, she added.

CapitaLand said main contractors and subcontractors at its project sites were required to comply with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Manpower and the National Environment Agency. They also have to conduct risk assessments to determine whether outdoor lifting operations involving tower and mobile cranes should cease if visibility is poor.

The company will also close external features of its properties such as roof gardens and playgrounds and keep all automatic doors closed if PSI readings cross the 150 mark.

Flexible working arrangements have been rolled out in some firms to allow employees to work from home.

All 30 employees of integrated communications firm SPRG Singapore were told to work from home yesterday, said general manager Edwin Yeo.

They will also have to stay at home if PSI levels exceed 300 next week.

Certain DBS Bank staff may work from home if the PSI crosses 200, said a spokesman.

Staff at OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB) who are pregnant, have underlying medical conditions or who need to take care of their children due to the haze may be allowed to work from home.

UOB said: "While there is no national shutdown of work places, work activities should not compromise the health and safety of our colleagues. Therefore, managers may exercise discretion in granting time off or leave to those with chronic heart or lung problems, or who are pregnant."

Singapore research house NetResearch Asia said in a note yesterday that anecdotal evidence shows that businesses have been affected by the haze on top of other issues this year. "The concern that current conditions will likely last to November, due to the longer than expected dry season, will impact struggling businesses that have already been hit by high rentals and falling demand."

OCBC economist Selena Ling does not think it will have a huge impact on growth numbers, but she does think it could drag down companies and affect sentiment.

"Manufacturing already looks pretty down in the doldrums. The haze situation doesn't really help. If it lasts till November it could actually impact retail and the food and beverage industry. In the past, we have seen how food deliveries were cancelled due to the haze."





Clear skies on Sunday as Pulau Ubin residents receive haze protection packs
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2015

Residents are enjoying clear skies again as Sunday began with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the moderate range.

The better air conditions have persisted into mid-day, with the 24-hour PSI, a measure of air quality here, at 12pm standing at between 66 and 76.

The National Environment Agency has forecast that the 24-hour PSI to be in the high-end of the moderate range (51 to 100) and low-end of the unhealthy range (101 to 200) on Sunday.

But if the haze does return, those living on Pulau Ubin will be well-equipped with haze protection kits to protect themselves from the air pollutants.

The WeCare Packs contain items such as N95 masks, lozenges, vitamin C tablets and food items such as instant noodles and canned sardines.

Residents over at Pulau Ubin were not forgotten as Dr Maliki Osman and volunteers from Siglap Grassroots Organisations...
Posted by The People's Association on Sunday, September 27, 2015


Dr Maliki Osman, Minister of State for National Development and Defence, together with volunteers from Siglap grassroots organisations, distributed the packs to seven households and three shops on the island on Sunday morning.

Madam Huang Ya Shan, 77, who received a WeCare Pack, said she is thankful for the items.

"It shows they care or they wouldn't have come all the way to give it to me personally," said the drink stall owner.

Most households have already received N95 masks from the Siglap grassroots leaders, and those who have not will get them in the coming days.

Currently, 30 residents, mostly old folk, live permanently on the small island to the north-east of the main Singapore island.

Dr Maliki said: "We are very concerned about the haze situation and how our pioneers who are living alone are managing on their own here. Over the last couple of days, I've sent my grassroots leaders to give them masks first, and today we visited them again to see how else we can support and help them."

A mask collection point has also been set up at a bicycle shop near the jetty, run by the village chief, Mr Chu Yok Choon, 70.









* Haze subsidy scheme: 15,000 cases so far
But doctors say they are seeing many others with haze-related ailments who are not eligible
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 27 Sep 2015

An estimated 15,000 people have benefited from the haze subsidy in the past 10 days.

The Government aid means they need to pay no more than $10 when they see a doctor for haze-related medical problems. Pioneers pay $5.

The number of patients tapping the subsidy appears to be far higher than in 2013, when only 20,500 people used it over the four months of haze. Part of the reason is the extension of the benefit to the 450,000-strong Pioneer Generation - those aged 16 and above in 1965.

However, doctors say they are seeing many more patients who are ineligible for the subsidy who are suffering haze-related problems such as breathing problems, runny nose, eye irritations, eczema and even pneumonia.

Dr Lam Pin Min, Minister of State for Health, who visited three participating GPs in Simei yesterday morning, said claims from GPs take at least a month to reach the ministry.

Polyclinics have seen 2,200 such patients since the scheme started on Sept 16. During the 2013 haze, polyclinics saw about 15 per cent of such patients, he said.


"The Haze Subsidy Scheme will continue as long as the haze does not improve," says MOS Dr Lam Pin Min after visiting participating GP clinics in Simei. http://bit.ly/1PEtXhi Ministry of Health #SGHaze #haze
Posted by 938LIVE on Saturday, September 26, 2015


Dr Kelvin Goh, who sees about 100 patients a day at his clinic at the Simei MRT station, said about 20 to 30 of these appear to have haze-related respiratory problems.

Others say the haze triggered their eczema, sinus problems or asthma but he added that not all are eligible for the subsidy.

Dr Teoh Oon Hoe, head of respiratory medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) has advised parents whose children suffer from asthma to ensure that they take their medicine, especially if they develop shortness of breath.

"A surge in the three-hour PSI increases the risk of asthma exacerbations in such children," he said.

His colleague, Dr Edwin Thia, who deals in maternal foetal medicine, said there is "no strong evidence to suggest that short-term exposure" would affect unborn children, as all studies have been on prolonged exposure to pollutants causing low birth weight, pre-term birth and intrauterine growth restriction.

But he added: "As a precaution, we would advise that pregnant women reduce exposure to haze for the health of their unborn baby."

Meanwhile, public hospitals are keeping the windows in their subsidised wards closed to prevent the haze from affecting their patients, many of whom are elderly.

About four in five public hospital beds are in subsidised B2 and C class wards, which are naturally ventilated, with no air conditioning.

A spokesman for Changi General Hospital (CGH) said it is "managing the wards' temperature through the use of portable air-condition units in addition to our spot cooling system". It also uses portable fans.

Aside from portable air-conditioners, the National University Hospital (NUH) is using air purifiers in its subsidised wards. It has also added filters to some of the air-conditioning systems to minimise pollutants in the air.

Ms Joanne Yap, chief operating officer of the new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, said its centralised air filter system is able to filter up to 80 per cent of synthetic dust and 95 per cent of air particles.




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