Classes cancelled due to haze, but some still turned up at school

Kimberly Spykerman, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Classes in primary and secondary schools were cancelled on Friday (Sep 25) because of the worsening haze situation. However, schools stayed open to look after students whose parents were unable to make last-minute childcare arrangements.

At De La Salle School in Choa Chu Kang, for example, 20 students showed up in the morning. Said Ms Daphne Sing, the school’s principal: "Most of their parents are at work and they have no other caregivers so we do the necessary to help the parents take care of their children."

Teachers were on duty to keep the children occupied in the school library till it was time to head home. Ms Sing elaborated: "Earlier this morning when they came in, they were in a little room reading books, doing some quiet revision of their work.

"Later on, we felt we should occupy them with some fun activities. Or else it is terrible to sit down all the time. So we decided to give them games and we divided them into stations, so they could actually move from one station to another."

For older students preparing for the Primary School Leaving Examination next week, heading to school was a chance to get some studying done. "My parents are always working. When they are not at home, I tend to do a lot of things - sit down, watch TV, play computer games. So to get away from all of that, I came to school today to study, said one student, Abhiramarooban Katherasn.

If the haze worsens and schools continue to stay closed, some principals said that plans are already in place for home-based learning - for example, through e-learning portals. This will ensure continuity in their students' lessons.

Principal of Si Ling Primary School, Mr Richard Lim, noted: "Right now, they can actually get into the portal because we already have some lessons there. And they can do some work there. But because it is just one day, we will wait until it is a long closure, then we will download a lot more programmes and lessons into it."

Fourteen students had turned up at Si Ling Primary School - located in Woodlands - which stayed open till 6.30pm. They too were kept busy with activities like educational games.

Meanwhile, kindergartens and childcare centres stayed open but activities were scaled down and kept indoors.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin commented: "It is a recognition that with preschool children, it is a bit different. Primary school and above, I think children are a bit more independent, preschool a bit less so. And if parents do not have childcare arrangements, it can be a bit difficult.

“But in reality, what happens on the ground is largely the same. Parents who are not so comfortable, they prefer to keep children at home - please by all means do so. But if they do not have the child-minding arrangements, then they are able to bring the children to school and the children will be looked after."

At both EtonHouse preschool in Newton and childcare centre Smiling Star, just about half the usual number of students turned up on Friday morning.

The Education Ministry said about 98 per cent of childcare centres received children though attendance was lower, and about 3,300 students reported to school, less than 1 per cent of the total primary and secondary school cohort.

- CNA/ms

Firms take steps to ensure workers’ safety, health amid haze
At one construction site for example, an alarm will go off when the PSI hits hazardous levels. Workers will have to gather at a well-ventilated point where their supervisors will check on their well-being.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Many companies with staff working outdoors have taken steps to ensure their workers' safety and health are taken care of. Some are ready to stop work if the haze gets worse.

For example, at one construction site in Woodlands, if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hits hazardous levels, an alarm will go off.

Explained Mr Henry Ho, corporate workplace safety and health manager at Shanghai Tunnel Engineering: "Everyone will gather at the assembly area. From there, we will check who is feeling unwell and we will conduct a 'water parade' at our rest area. Those who are not feeling well will take a rest and if they are still feeling unwell, we will take them to see our company doctor.

“The workers are worried about the haze because it is getting more serious and that is why we issue them new masks every day. And at our rest areas, we have mist fans and real-time updates on the haze levels."

Meanwhile, ISOTEAM supplies its workers with N95 masks. They are also given fruits and water every day. And if anyone falls sick from the haze, they will be sent to the doctor for free.

Mr Richard Chan, general manager of ISOTEAM, said: "We practise rotation of work. The scope of work we do consists of both internal and external work. Under normal circumstances, the external team and the internal teams will perform their respective job scopes throughout the day.

“Since the outbreak of the haze, we have started shift work. The group of workers who are working in the external environment will work for a period of time before switching with the workers in the internal environment."

Over at Changi Airport, staff are told to turn on floodlights at hangars to improve visibility. Staff have also been told to cut down on non-essential outdoor work such as landscaping.

Meanwhile, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said it had advised the shipping community to monitor the PSI closely. It has told service providers to stick with the authorities' guidelines on working amid the worsening haze.

Fast food companies like KFC and Pizza Hut will stop delivery services when the PSI goes beyond 300. Both companies suspended delivery service on Thursday (Sep 24) when the air quality hit Hazardous levels. Delivery staff have been given N95 masks and bottles of water as well.

Another food delivery service Foodpanda said its riders have been given antibacterial wipes on top of N95 masks. It said closure decisions are on a "case-by-case basis" but it called off service when the PSI soared past 300.

The Manpower Ministry said it has inspectors who will be looking out for companies which disregard the safety and health of their workers. When they chance upon such companies, the authorities could issue a stop-work order. Employers who do not comply with this order face a maximum penalty of a S$500,000 fine and a year's jail.

- CNA/ms

Online post on voluntary day off for workers is fake: MOM
An online post stating that employers are encouraged to give a paid day off for staff on Sep 25 due to worsening air quality is fake, says the Ministry of Manpower.
Channel NewsAsia 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: An online post claiming to be from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) declaring a voluntary paid day off for workers due to the haze is fake, said the ministry on Friday (Sep 25).

“It has come to our attention that a post claiming to be from MOM, regarding the haze, has been circulating,” said MOM in a Facebook post. “MOM would like to state that this post is fake and the contents are not true.”

The alleged post stated that MOM has declared Sep 25 a "Voluntary Non-Work" day, and "employers will be encouraged to give a paid day off to their staff".

“While there is no national shutdown of workplaces, employers should not compromise the health and safety of their employees as they continue functioning,” MOM added.

The ministry also urged members of the public to only use the official MOM website and Facebook page for information. MOM has filed a police report over the matter.

All primary and secondary schools on Friday suspended classes as air quality reached Hazardous levels on Thursday night.

Teachers swing into action as schools close
STACEY LIM Today Online 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — While it was a break from the usual school day for students, educators were busy putting into action plans drawn up for the Republic’s first school closure due to the threat of hazardous levels of haze.

Teachers uploaded modules onto schools’ e-learning portals for students whose parents chose to keep them at home, so that they had something to work on. Others were charged with supervising the handful who turned up at schools, down to bringing to them their meals in the air-conditioned spaces they were housed in.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said about 3,300 students reported to schools as at 10.30am today (Sept 25), less than 1 per cent of the total cohort of primary- and secondary-school students. Schools are expected to re-open on Monday, unless the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is forecast to go over 300.

De La Salle School principal Daphne Sing said schools have been prepared for such an occasion, since the historic episode of haze in 2013 when the three-hour PSI reached 401. For those at home, the school has a “Ask n Learn” forum, which allows students to do revision on their own at home.

About 23 students had showed up in the morning. They were brought to the library, where they could play board games such as Scrabble or Bingo. A teacher was also present, reading a book to students. Si Ling Primary School principal Richard Lim said should a closure be ordered when the Primary School Leaving Examination take place, students can sit for the exams in air-conditioned rooms with air purifiers. The 13 students who reported to the school today were placed in the student care centre and library, and teachers brought food from the canteen for students so they did not have to leave the premises.

Speaking at a media briefing this evening, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the decision to close schools was the right one, given how air quality was indeed at hazardous levels in the morning, before improving later in the day.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, when asked whether the haze announcements came too late yesterday night, assured that decisions were not “made on the fly”. “All this has been discussed within the agencies for the past few years… every year we will review it, make sure we improve it, but the system is largely in place,” he said.

Mrs Sing acknowledged that some parents did not receive the information until early morning as the school’s system was “a little bit slow”, but said schools remained open to students whose parents could not make necessary care arrangements.

Parents interviewed by TODAY were largely satisfied with the schools’ arrangements, but some said the schools’ e-learning systems appeared to be overwhelmed at times. Said Ms Serene Ng, 34, a mother of two boys in primary school: “The websites are facing technical issues with so many kids accessing at the same time ... this could be very frustrating.”

Ms Joey Tan, 38, a mother of two primary school children, said the school had planned for different levels to log in at different times, but the system still hung, before recovering around 2pm.

In response to queries, the MOE said each school runs its own online learning management systems, and schools work with vendors to increase bandwidth, or advise parents to log in at different time slots, to prepare for heavy online traffic.

Apart from these systems, students can also study out of textbooks and other internet resources when at home.

Childcare centres and kindergartens, meanwhile, remained open while scaling down their programmes, but parents could also keep their children home as a precaution.

Half the kindergartens had no children in attendance, while childcare centres were 98 per cent full. At Apricot Academy, 11 out of the usual 47 children were present. Principal Sabiah Jabar said: “This is a compliment to us and a sign that they trust us to take care of their children.”

Pre-schools took steps to protect their charges’ health. Nurture Cottage Preschool and Childcare kept its main door and windows shut to keep out as much haze as possible. Dropping off his four-year-old son at the centre today, Mr Adrian Lum, said: “(It is) not easy to find someone to take care of my kid, but I (know) that the school will take care of him.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARISSA YEO, TOH EE MING AND FRANCIS LAW

Games, enrichment programmes and meals for students in school on Friday
Today Online 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Some students who went to school today (Sept 25) despite the announced closure were given board games to play, while others had enrichment programmes prepared for them. Some students had their meals delivered to them by teachers, who did not want them to brave the haze while they buy food from outside the school.

Yesterday, as the haze worsened, the Government declared the closure of primary and secondary schools. Parents who were unable to make alternative care arrangements were told they could still send their children to school and teachers would supervise them.

According to authorities, about 3,300 students reported to school today as of 10.30am, less than 1 per cent of the total cohort of Primary and Secondary school students.

In line with the announced school closure, both the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) and MENDAKI announced today that they had suspended their tuition classes for today and tomorrow. The two organisations said they were reaching out to parents via phone or SMS to inform them of the closures.

MENDAKI centre supervisors and head tutors will still be at the tuition centres to receive and assist students who may have missed the announcement, the Malay self-help group said. It has also prepared materials, such as YouTube Mathematics videos and mock-exam papers, online for students who may want to continue their exam preparations.

CDAC will also have Tuition Centre supervisors stationed at its tuition centres to assist parents and students who may have missed the announcement.

Earlier today, Principal of Si Ling Primary School, Mr Lim Chew Hiong Richard, said 13 students, most in the Primary 3 and 4 levels, came in the morning. Parents usually fetch their children at 1pm but the students can stay in school until 6pm, he said.

Students were placed at the school’s student care centre and library. In the library, two teachers and one librarian would be present, with teachers on an hourly rotation. Another room has been set aside for more students, said Mr Lim.

Two air purifiers were placed in the library and teachers will bring food to the students, he added. The students in the library were seen on their laptops playing educational games online. There were also enrichment programmes to keep students occupied.

De La Salle School principal Daphne Sing, 53, said about 20 to 23 students had showed up and were housed in the library, where they could play board games. A teacher was also at the library reading a book to students.

Primary six student Abhiramarooban Katherasn, at De La Salle School said: “The teachers here are very helpful. During the haze in the morning ... they actually help us buy food. ... They don’t want us to go out so that we can stay healthy for exams (and) not fall sick.”

At Clementi Primary School and Nan Hua Primary School between 7am and 7.30am, a few parents were seen bringing their children to school. Nan Hua Primary School principal Becky Neo said that about 11 pupils came to the school.


While schools were shut, several childcare centres were in operation today for parents with no alternatives for childcare.

A spokesperson from My First Skool said it has “an established set of operating procedures for various haze alert levels”. Today, it scaled down lessons and programmes while remaining open. Precautionary measures such as shutting the windows, deploying air purifiers and keeping children indoors in air-conditioned rooms are in place.

“We need to continue to support working parents as many will not have alternative care arrangements. For the children under our care, their health and well-being remain of utmost importance,” said the spokesperson.

“We have also advised our staff to take preventive measures to stay indoors and take care of their health amidst potential ill effects from haze exposure.”

Other preschools TODAY visited also said they have taken the necessary measures to protect the children.

At Apricot Academy, 11 out of the usual 47 children were present. Principal Sabiah Jabar said: “Actually, this is a compliment to us and a sign that they trust us to take care of their children.”

The Nurture Cottage Preschool and Childcare has closed its main door and all windows to keep out as much haze as possible. “Despite this haze condition, our school will be open (as usual), but we have already informed the parents so they have a choice to send their children here,” said Ms Tina Lim, Director of The Nurture Cottage Preschool and Childcare.

Ms Jackie Foley, 31, a parent of two daughters aged three and five, walked to The Nurture Cottage Preschool and Childcare. “The teacher was actually rushing me to close the door as I was taking quite some time to drop them off at the main door as one of my children had a cast on his leg,” she said.

Another parent, Mr Adrian Lum, who also dropped off his four-year-old son said: “This haze condition is very last minute and (it is) not easy to find someone to take care of my kid, but I (know) that the school will take care of him.”


Business as usual thanks to brief respite from haze
NG JING YNG Today Online 26 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — It was business as usual yesterday for workers of all stripes, who made their way to work under choking smog as the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) stayed above 300 between 6am and 8am.

But within hours, the skies began to clear — the PSI reading was 84 at 1pm — and many employees in the Central Business District took the chance to head outdoors and get some fresh air. The respite was brief, however, and the PSI reading crept back up in the evening, reaching 168 at 8pm.

When TODAY visited Raffles Place at around 10am, many office workers were spotted sitting around the grass patches next to the MRT station, chatting with friends or grabbing a bite as they basked under the blue skies. Compliance officer Desmond Lim, 38, said he relished the opportunity to leave his office for lunch. “It doesn’t feel that bad that I need to be putting on a mask,” said Mr Lim.

Part-time cleaner Lily Teng, 65, also ventured outdoors to clean the outside of a shop’s glass doors. “It looks okay to be working outside for a while,” she said, adding that she had gotten a call early in the morning from her son reminding her to stay indoors.

Ms Natalie Yap, 26, who works in a brokerage, said she brought an inhaler with her as she has mild asthma. “It is hard for me to work from home because of the nature of our work ... But we are in the office most of the time, so it is all right,” she said.

For those who have to brave the elements, such as security guards and deliverymen, the respite was welcomed too. Nevertheless, they said that they had taken precautionary measures. Certis Cisco security guard Susela P, 53, said her supervisors had urged them to don masks and also reminded them to drink lots of water.

“We were all given masks to wear and were told to put it on at all times, especially when we are going outdoors,” she said. She added that she has her own concoction — hot water mixed with turmeric powder and white pepper — that she drinks during this hazy period.

Mr Rasul Mohd Amin, 26, who works as a courier, said that over the past few days, he had been coughing and experiencing some difficulty in breathing. “Our company told us to do our deliveries at a slower pace if necessary … I am trying not to over-exert myself,” he said.

Meanwhile, work carried on at several construction sites that TODAY visited across the island. Precautions were taken at most of the sites, although at one site, the workers were spotted with surgical masks, which are not effective in filtering the fine particles that can be found in the air.

Construction companies TODAY spoke to said they started distributing N95 masks to their workers, from as early as last week.

Ms Shirley Too, Welltech Construction’s Workplace Safety and Health officer, said her company has made it compulsory for the workers to wear the masks when the three-hour PSI reading is above 200. When the three-hour PSI level rose above 300 in the wee hours of yesterday, all outdoor activities were scaled down and only work indoors was done until 10am when the situation improved.

Mr Lim Kim Soon, site manager at the Vine Grove project, noted that it was not easy to ensure that workers wear the masks. “They find it too uncomfortable ... Once they think the sky looks clear, they’ll take off. We can’t be watching them 24 hours.”

KTC Group CEO Rajan Krishnan said that his workers are given rest periods every three hours or so if the air quality is at a unhealthy level, depending on what work they are doing. “Anybody can report (to the management) if they feel unwell,” he said.

Mr Bernard Menon, executive director of Migrant Workers’ Centre, said he and his staff went around the western part of the island to hand out masks to workers who were working outdoors but not wearing masks. They wanted to educate the workers on the dangers of not protecting themselves, he said.

Meanwhile, the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU) issued a haze health advisory to all its unionised branches. Its industry relations officers would be monitoring adherence to the guidelines. BATU has also distributed 3,000 face masks to unionised companies that requested for them, and its officials have also gone on-site to give out 1,000 N95 masks to conservancy and public cleaning workers.

Haze hazardous, but it's business as usual in S’pore on Friday morning
Today Online 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — As haze hit hazardous levels early this morning (Sept 25), it was business as usual in most parts of the island even as workers took precautions against the smog.

In the central business district, Ms Susela P, 53, a Certis Cisco security guard working at the area along Market Street said: “We were all given masks to wear and were told to put it on at all times, especially when we are going outdoors.”

“The weather today is already not so bad... I am feeling alright, throat feels slightly dry but we are also told to drink lots of water to stay hydrated”.

Mr Rasul Mohd Amin, 26, dispatch and courier worker said: “Our company told us to take a slower pace in our deliveries and rest if we are feeling tired. I am coughing a little but I try to stay hydrated and also take things slowly.”

Ms Natalie Yap, 26, who works in a brokerage said: “I have slight asthma so I am being more careful, keeping my inhaler at hand all the times. I think we are pretty well-sheltered in Singapore, a lot of indoor spaces and public transport are all air-conditioned, so I think it is not too bad.

“It is hard for me to work from home due to the nature of our work in the financial services and we work off our laptop, but we are in the office most of the time, so it is alright”.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) took to Facebook to debunk an online post claiming to be from the ministry, which declared today a "Voluntary Non-Work Day". "MOM would like to state that this post is fake and the contents are not true," said the ministry. "While there is no national shutdown of workplaces, employers should not compromise the health and safety of their employees as they continue functioning. This is especially so for those involved in outdoor work," it added. The MOM later updated that it has lodged a police report on this matter.

Work carried on at several construction sites that TODAY visited in the western part of the island. One construction worker said he and his fellow workers were given masks — normal surgical masks, and not N95 masks — and they started work as usual at about 8am.

Meanwhile, fast food chains announced the resumption of delivery services.

McDonald’s posted on Facebook that McDelivery services resumed from 10.30am. The fast food chain, which said it has taken precautions to protect its delivery staff, added: “Our main concerns are for the welfare of our staff and the satisfaction of our customers. While the haze persists, we ask for your kind understanding that services may be disrupted or delayed, depending on environmental conditions in different parts of Singapore.”

At close to 11am, Pizza Hut and KFC also announced the resumption of delivery service due to improved haze conditions.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which had peaked at 341 at 5am, dipped to below 300 at 9am. At 11am the reading was 187 and an hour later, the three-hour PSI had fallen to 126.

As haze conditions worsened, air quality had entered the hazardous range (above 300) at 4am with a reading of 243 to 309. At 12pm, the reading had dipped to 248-306.

All outdoor and non-airconditioned facilities at ActiveSG Sports Centres, however, remained closed, said Sport Singapore in a release today. The facilities will be closed when the 24-hour PSI hits above 200, said Sport SG.

The governing body for sports said that it will assess and re-open these sports facilities when the haze situation improves, to ensure the well-being of people using its sports facilities.

Meanwhile, Singtel has put in place contingency plans if the 3-hour PSI goes over 300 again.

Singtel will temporarily suspend outdoor operations such as work on roof tops, car parks, roadsides and traffic junctions if the 3-hour PSI goes over 300 and continues into the subsequent hour. If the 3-hour PSI level goes above 350, home/office installations and maintenance will stop. Affected customers will be contacted to reschedule their appointments to a later time.

The telco Singtel is also distributing one N95 mask and one surgical mask to each of its 13,000 employees in Singapore as part of its efforts to step up precautionary measures against the haze.


SportSG to regulate opening hours of sports centres
AMANPREET SINGH Today Online 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — With the worsening haze condition forcing an unprecedented closure of primary and secondary schools for a day today (Sept 25), Sport Singapore are also getting in on the act by regulating their sports facilities’ operating hours to ensure the wellbeing of their users.

The national sports body announced today (Sept 25) that all outdoor and non-air-conditioned facilities at its ActiveSG Centres would be closed to the public if the 24-hr Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is above 200, while air-conditioned sports halls and gyms will stay open during this period. Sport Singapore will assess and re-open the facilities when haze conditions improve.

“We seek the public’s kind understanding and (advise them to) take necessary health precautions,” said Sport Singapore in a media advisory issued today.

“The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status (e.g. whether one has pre-existing chronic heart or lung disease), the PSI level, and the duration and intensity of outdoor activity.

“Reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.”

National sports associations have also implemented measures to cope with the haze situation. Singapore Athletics have issued a haze advisory to participants of this weekend’s Singapore Masters Track and Field Championships, stating that the event will carry on if the PSI is below 100, while participants can choose to go ahead at their own discretion if the level is between 101-200. The meet will be cancelled if the PSI hits above 200.

The Football Association of Singapore will also monitor the situation over the weekend, with matches at the Jalan Besar Stadium to be postponed or delayed if the haze gets worse. The LionsXII are scheduled to play their Malaysia Cup group match against Terengganu tomorrow, while S-League teams Courts Young Lions and Tampines Rovers will play at Jalan Besar on Sunday.

Members of the public can refer to the official ActiveSG website ( for the latest updates on the haze and further details of the closure of MyActiveSG sports centres, or the MyActiveSG Facebook page at

Schools to reopen on Monday unless hazardous air quality forecast
SIAU MING EN Today Online 26 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is expected to remain in the very unhealthy range and may fall to the high end of unhealthy range over the next 24 hours, but further improvements can be expected over the weekend, the authorities said at a multi-agency briefing this evening (Sept 25).

Schools will resume on Monday for primary and secondary school students unless the National Environment Agency forecasts that haze will be in the hazardous level.

As of 10.30am today, about 3,300 students had reported to schools, which were shut due to threats of hazardous haze. This figure is less than 1 per cent of total primary and secondary school cohort

The authorities said the 24-hour PSI peaked today at 8am, at 322, while the three-hour PSI peaked today at 5am at 341. The readings are the highest since the new air quality reporting system, which incorporates PM2.5 into the PSI, started in April last year.

Bad air keeps people indoors on public holiday
Lim Yi HanTHE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 25 Sep 15;

The haze cast a cloud over public holiday plans yesterday as people stayed indoors due to the poor air quality.

Food and beverage businesses were also affected and some country clubs closed their golf courses.

Events manager Winnie Lin, 32, who is 32 weeks pregnant, was unable to walk her dog because of the haze. "I went out in the morning for breakfast but found it very hard to breathe so I'm going to stay indoors and avoid going out," she said.

Auditor Annabel Loh, 26, said: "I planned to do a hike at 5am at MacRitchie Reservoir to prepare for my Bali trekking trip next month.

I would have continued while wearing a mask if the PSI was below 200. However, I had to cancel it."

Mr Eric Lim, 32, went ahead with shopping plans with his wife "to hide indoors in the malls". The corporate communications executive said: "We didn't bring our one- year-old son out. He's staying home with the air-con and air purifier on."

While the pollution did not put a stop to the Korban rituals - which marked Hari Raya Haji - across the island, volunteers at participating mosques were given N95 masks.

Some families were put off making Hari Raya Haji visits to friends and relatives. Preschool teacher Juriana Juhari, 32, said: "My 11-month-old daughter has asthma so we had to stay indoors. We went to the mosque in the morning and went straight home. I wanted to go visiting but decided not to."

Teacher Yati Isnin, 33, who wore a mask outside, added: "We cut down our visits from five to two houses."

Outdoor businesses hoping for a windfall on the public holiday were also disappointed.

Mr Juwanda Hashim, owner of the Fabulous Baker Boy cafe at Fort Canning Hill, said business has fallen by around 30 to 40 per cent over the past three weeks due to the haze.

Mr Seth Kho, manager of Riders Cafe in Bukit Timah, said more than half of its 168 brunch customers cancelled reservations yesterday. "It's really quiet for a public holiday," he said. "We are really affected because of the haze. We have no air-conditioning... We thought it got better last week but suddenly now, it's worse."

It was the same for beachfront Italian eatery Trapizza at Siloso Beach on Sentosa. Supervisor Dioa Jovolin said: "We usually see at least half the restaurant filled on weekends and public holidays, but the haze was so terrible today that we only got three tables of customers."

At electric karting track The Karting Arena, which opened this week at Turf City, fewer people than expected turned up. Owner Yuey Tan said: "It's unfortunate that the haze has worsened in the past few days, but what's important is to stay healthy during this period."

Singapore Island Country Club closed its three golf courses at 6.30am, as well as its outdoor area.

Raffles Country Club closed its two golf courses. "We had some members play in the morning, but because of the situation, we decided to close the golf courses. Reservations were also cancelled," said its operations executive Joeness Lamban. "Usually on a public holiday, or weekends, golf courses are more crowded but we had no choice but to close it." Some outdoor workers remained on duty despite the haze.

Ramky Cleantech Services director Milton Ng said his cleaners working in exposed areas had been issued masks. "We are asked to scale down on certain operations like desilting of drains if the 24-hour PSI goes above 250, but litter bin clearance and mechanical road sweeping still continue," he said. "Singaporeans still litter regardless of the haze."

Additional reporting by Joanna Seow, Kok Xing Hui and Lee Min Kok

Haze forces closure of schools across S'pore
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.
Joanna Seow, Lester Hio, Francis Chan, Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 25 Sep 15;

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

Steps to look after those who turn up in schools
Lester Hio And Joanna Seow THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 25 Sep 15;

Parents had to make alternative plans for their children last night as the haze caused primary and secondary schools around the island to be closed.

Video producer Melvyn Goh said his two daughters, who are both in primary school, will stay at home with their helper.

"Thankfully that's settled, because my wife is overseas, so if we didn't have a helper I might have had to cancel my video shoot to look after them," said the 39-year-old.

"My Primary 1 daughter is happy there's no school, but the Primary 4 one said she was 'bummed out' about it because there was a netball competition she was looking forward to."

The Ministry of Education (MOE) had prepared for such an eventuality and is keeping schools open for students who turn up, with supervisors on hand to look after them in libraries and other rooms. National examinations scheduled for today have also been postponed.

More than 100 students who were due to take the GCE O-level Music and Higher Music practical exams today will take them at 8am next Tuesday instead.

They were notified of the rescheduling by their schools yesterday while private candidates were informed by the exam board.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said at a media briefing last night that there has been a general upward trend in the hourly raw concentration of PM2.5 particles, which affects the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

There was a brief respite over last weekend and early this week as the winds were blowing from the south and south-east.

The haze returned in force on Wednesday due to a change in wind direction because of a tropical storm in the western Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines.

The storm acts as a "low-pressure zone", said Dr Balakrishnan. That causes wind to blow from the south or south-west, sending haze from a dense haze cloud sitting slightly to the south of Singapore into the nation.

Contingency plans for national examinations are in place should haze conditions remain unhealthy orworsen. All schools have enclosed spaces for candidates to take their exams, and schools will also be provided with air purifiers so that exams are not disrupted.

"We will certainly announce our plans if we need. This is a very fast-moving situation, but we are prepared," said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. Should the air quality enter the hazardous level resulting in further school closures, exams will be rescheduled.

Some companies possibly responsible for the haze have been identified, Dr Balakrishnan added.

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act punishes polluters who cause haze. They can be fined up to $100,000 per day, capped at a total of $2 million.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The National Environment Agency has written to the Indonesian authorities, asking for a list of companies whom the Indonesian investigations have shown may be implicated in this. Pursuant to our Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, we will be issuing notices in the days to come."

Smoky smog brings Singapore daily life to a halt
Saheli Roy Choudhury, CNBC 24 Sep 15;

Singapore has closed its schools after the pollution levels caused by the smoky smog enveloping the city hit dangerously high levels.

On Thursday night local time the Ministry of Education said it would close primary and secondary schools on Friday, along with government-run kindergartens, after the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading, which measures how polluted the air is, hit 314 and the 24-hour figure rose to 223-275 at 10pm local time on Thursday. Anything over 300 indicates "hazardous" air quality and 201-300 is "very unhealthy", Singapore's National Environment Agency said on its website.

Not all schools have air conditioning fitted, preventing them from closing windows to shut out the smoky air.

On Friday the PSI hovered near the hazardous range again, hitting 255, with the 24-hour figure at 264-321.

The Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, right, stands shrouded in smog in Singapore, on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. The haze from Indonesian forest fires pushed Singapore's air quality closer to the 'hazardous' range, covering the city-state with a layer of smog as the government warned of a worsening condition over the public holiday.

The Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, right, stands shrouded in smog in Singapore, on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. The haze from Indonesian forest fires pushed Singapore's air quality closer to the 'hazardous' range, covering the city-state with a layer of smog as the government warned of a worsening condition over the public holiday.

Slash-and-burn agriculture, and resulting forest fires, in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan islands are responsible for the so-called haze that hangs over Singapore. Indonesia and parts of Malaysia are also affected, with PSI readings in Kalimantan nearing 2,000, according to reports.

Although Singapore offices remained open on Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to Facebook to urge employers to "not compromise on the health and safety of their employees, especially those working outdoors."

Singapore's residents, meanwhile, were growing weary of the yellow smog clouding the city's skies; people with thick surgical masks covering half of their face are currently a common sight in the city-state.

"It's getting worse now," Jabbar Hanieff told CNBC on Friday. "It's affecting everybody, especially people like me. But to use the cup (mask), every time you have to take it out when you go in, it's creating a lot of problems. So I hope this thing will go off as soon as possible."

The effects of the haze are worst for those with breathing-related conditions. Toh Shu Hui said: "You can see it's affecting my daily life. I get respiratory problems, sinus. It's very common [and] it's affecting my family as well."

Some residents did see a lighter side to the problem. Local Twitter celebrity mrbrown, who started the hashtage #sghazesongs, was inundated with suggestions, from The Platters' Smoke Gets in Your Eyes to Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water and Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire and No Air by Chris Brown and Jordin Sparks.

But outdoor pursuits have largely ground to a halt during the haze, which started earlier this month.

The Singapore Sports Hub said on its website that it would suspend all outdoor activities at its stadium and aquatic complex. Health advisories sent out by the Ministry of Health and the National Environment Agency urged residents to minimize time spent outside.

And fast food restaurants including KFC and McDonalds have suspended their delivery services to protect workers from the smog.

Indonesia is investigating about 100 companies for their alleged links to the forest fires and recently ordered four to suspend their operations, Reuters reported. Officials hope to extinguish the majority of the fires by mid-October.

Reports suggest, however, that the El Nino phenomenon, which results in very dry weather, means the haze could continue until the monsoon season begins in November.