Malaysia: Johor sees spike in respiratory-related illnesses

The Star 28 Sep 15;

JOHOR BARU: The worsening haze has contributed to an increase in respiratory-related illnesses in the state with 19,655 cases recorded during the first two weeks of the month.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said there was also a marked spike in hospital admissions for respiratory ailments, from 28,768 in July to 30,118 in August.

“We believe that the hazy weather contributed to the increase as 19,655 cases were recorded within just 15 days this month,” he said.

Ayub said patients with respiratory illness were given priority for hospital admission because they were in the high-risk category.

He said health clinics had been handing out face masks to chronic patients who face higher risks of falling ill due to the haze.

“I hope that various departments and the private sector can also help distribute face masks to members of the public or their workers.

“People should also refrain from outdoor activities and drink more water during this period,” Ayub added.

The Air Pollution Index readings in all areas in the state were at average levels, between 58 and 72 as of 2pm yesterday.

Meanwhile, six domestic flights were cancelled at the Senai International Airport here due to the hazy weather that affected operations in the Subang Airport in Selangor.

The airport’s chief operations officer Noor Safura Suib said that the flights were unable to depart from the Subang Airport due to poor visibility, resulting in the cancellations here.

The visibility here, however, has been clear and good for take off, she told The Star when contacted here on Sunday (Sept 27).

Haze forces some schools to shut
The Star 28 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: All schools in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Pahang and some in Sarawak and Perak will be closed today due to the worsening haze.

The affected schools in Perak are in Tanjung Malim while those in Sarawak are in Sri Aman, Kuching and Samarahan.

The Education Ministry said the decision was made because the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in the areas reached unhealthy levels of between 101 and 200 and very unhealthy levels of between 201 and 300.

The ministry’s statement was posted on its website and Facebook page, as well as on the Facebook and Twitter sites of Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid and Deputy Education Minister P. Kamanalathan.

Parent Sandra Lee welcomed the early announcement as it gave her enough time to make arrangements for someone to take care of her two school-going children.

“This is much better than what happened two weeks ago when the ministry made the announcement at close to midnight that schools would be closed the next day,” said the 45-year-old Petaling Jaya resident.

Another parent, John Raj, 39, felt that schools should remain open, as students would still have to breathe the same polluted air, whether at home or at school.

“They can just remain indoors and not go out for outdoor activities.

“It’s better to have them occupied at school, whether in class or at the library, than just sitting around at home,” said the father of three.

In Kuching, parents welcomed the ministry’s announcement.

Retail service manager Nancy Nais said it was the right move as the unhealthy air quality was not good for children, especially those with health problems.

“Although my daughter has not had any health issues with the haze so far, why wait for something to happen.

“The only problem for me is that she is going to get bored at home,” she said.

The state Education Department said the closure affected 265 schools in Kuching, 198 in Samarahan and 70 in Sri Aman.

Of the 533 schools in all three divisions, 462 are primary schools and 71 secondary schools involving a total of 199,167 students and 16,841 teachers.

At 2pm yesterday, the API was 133 in Kuching, 145 in Samarahan and 186 in Sri Aman.

Haze: Schools can close if visibility below 500m
The Star 27 Sep 15;

PUTRAJAYA: From Monday, school managements and district education offices (PPD) are given the authority to decide on the school closure if visibility drops to less than 500 metres.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said previously, schools in areas affected by the haze would only be closed if the air pollutant index (API) readings reached 200, which were very unhealthy.

"I have discussed with the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry yesterday and decided that besides the API, visibility can also be taken into account in determining the closure of schools.

"This means, even if the API is still between 100 and 120, but the visibility in the area is below 500 metres, we allow the PPD and headmaster to close the affected school," he told a press conference here Sunday.

All schools in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Tanjung Malim, Sri Aman, Kuching and Samarahan in Sarawak have been ordered closed following a deterioration in the API reading.

Mahdzir said the ministry had also decided that announcement on whether schools would be closed or operated as usual the next day would be made at 2pm every day.

On parents' request that schools should be closed in three or four consecutive days, he said the proposal was logical but the ministry must take into account various factors, including the possibility of changes in the API reading.

More importantly, parents need to know that every decision made by the ministry is based on what will happen tomorrow, he said.

Haze: Flights to Ipoh delayed, diverted
The Star 27 Sep 15;

IPOH: Six flights - three departures and three arrivals - were delayed due to the haze at the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport here Sunday.

Malaysia Airports Sdn Bhd operations officer Tengku Mahmud Tengku Zainal said the flights were delayed due to poor visibility at the airport, which was 600 metres.

He said the delay involved the departure flights for the Ipoh-Singapore and Ipoh-Johor Baru sectors, while the arrival flights were for the Singapore-Ipoh and Johor-Ipoh sectors.

The delay involved 344 passengers - 157 for arrival and 187 for departure, he told Bernama.

Tengku Mahmud said the haze also caused flight TR2482 from Singapore, which was scheduled to arrive at 3.05 pm, to be diverted to KLIA2.

He said the airlines affected were Tiger Air, Firefly and Malindo Air.

Haze: All Kuching-Pontianak flights cancelled
The Star 27 Sep 15;

KUCHING: All flights involving the Kuching-Pontianak and Pontianak-Kuching sector have been cancelled until further notice.

"All flights to and from Pontianak have been cancelled until further notice.

There are no passengers stranded from the sector here since early notice was given," said Kuching International Airport (KIA) general manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim.

He said four flights that were scheduled to depart and arrive here (KIA) were delayed due to the haze Sunday morning as visibility was reduced to just 800m.

He said the delayed flights were Kuching-Kuala Lumpur, Kuching-Sibu, Kuala Lumpur-Kuching and Sibu-Kuching.

"The delay involved 333 passengers," he told said when contacted.

Mohd Nadzim said flight MH2542 from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching with 65 passengers on board was diverted to Sibu, due to the worsening haze condition in Kuching. – Bernama

Malaysia again shuts schools as Indonesian smoke thickens
The Ministry of Education ordered schools shut on Monday in the capital and three states due to health concerns, the second time this month it has had to issue such an order.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Thick white smoke from Indonesian slash-and-burn farming enveloped Malaysia's capital and other areas Sunday (Sep 27), triggering school closures for the following day as weeks of choking haze showed no sign of abating.

Pollution readings in Kuala Lumpur soared into the Very Unhealthy territory in the Malaysian government's hourly air-quality index.

The Ministry of Education ordered schools shut on Monday in the capital and three states - Selangor, Putrajaya and Negri Sembilan - due to health concerns, the second time this month it has had to issue such an order.

Malaysia, Singapore and large expanses of Indonesia have suffered for weeks from acrid smoke billowing from fires on plantations and peatlands that are being illegally cleared by burning.

The fires are located on Indonesia's huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The crisis grips the region nearly every year during the dry season, but the current outbreak is one of the worst and longest-lasting in years.

Authorities have said tens of thousands of people in the three countries have been forced to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems, and that dozens of flights have been cancelled or delayed due to poor visibility.

Indonesia has faced pressure from its neighbours to address the problem since it first emerged nearly 20 years ago.


But the issue has persisted, especially as plantations expand to meet rising global demand for products like palm oil, a key ingredient in a vast range of everyday consumer products.

Singapore on Friday ordered rare school closures across the city-state as air reached "hazardous" levels there, with Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan saying the problem has lasted "for far too long".

"This is not a natural disaster. Haze is a man-made problem that should not be tolerated. It has caused major impact on the health, society and economy of our region," he said in a statement.

The Singapore Government also said Friday it had launched legal action against five Indonesian companies blamed for the fires, including multinational Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which could lead to massive fines.

Air quality in Singapore improved Sunday, dropping below the Unhealthy mark.

An airport just outside Kuala Lumpur closed temporarily on Saturday afternoon as visibility dropped to less then 400 metres. That forced at least 20 flights to be cancelled, according to Malaysian media reports.

Other reports on Sunday said air service between the Malaysian city of Kuching and Indonesia's Pontianak - both of which are on Borneo - was halted until further notice.

Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said Saturday that "fires continue to rage" despite a push to extinguish the blazes by more than 25,000 military, police and other personnel. He said new fires were cropping up, while some that were previously extinguished had flared anew or had been deliberately re-ignited.

Nugroho also said pollution readings in several Indonesian cities were at hazardous levels, and that nearly 168,000 people in the country had sought medical treatment for respiratory ailments.

Indonesia had earlier declared a state of emergency in Sumatra's hard-hit Riau province.

- AFP/ek