No panic despite hazy skies

Hariz Baharudin, The New Paper AsiaOne 17 Sep 15;

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

Organiser of F1 race keeping close watch on haze

The organiser of the Formula One's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix has stressed that it is ready to deal with the haze.

A spokesman told media that it has been closely monitoring the situation in case it worsens as race day looms.

The Singapore Grand Prix is scheduled to be held from Friday to Sunday.

A spokesman told The Straits Times: "In the event that the haze causes visibility, public health or operational issues, Singapore GP would work closely with the relevant agencies before making any collective decisions regarding the event."

The night race at the Singapore Grand Prix is the 13th race of the 2015 season.

World champion Lewis Hamilton is currently holding a comfortable 53-point lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers' standings.

Tourists make the best of visit to Singapore despite haze
MARISSA YEO Today Online 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — They came to Singapore expecting clear blue skies and tropical sunshine, but were greeted instead by a gloomy grey landscape and the smell of smoke in the air.

Mr Jason Officer, 42, who came from Las Vegas to Singapore with his wife to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, was disheartened by the haze that has plagued Singapore for over a week now, and the couple has adjusted some of their holiday plans. Instead of sightseeing outdoors, they are turning to indoor attractions.

“We were expecting a feast for our eyes, but the weather turned out to be gloomy. We really wanted to go to the beach to suntan and dine at the top of Marina Bay Sands, but I guess we have to skip it cause of the haze,” Mr Officer said while walking along the Fullerton Bay area. The couple expects to enjoy the Formula 1 race as planned, but Mr Officer added: “We are more concerned for the drivers’ safety as it is very important during the race.”

With the hazy conditions, tourists in Singapore are gamely making the best of their time here while staving off the occasional eye, throat and nose irritations — common haze-induced conditions.

Mr Keith Dasmarinas, 35, from the Philippines, who was at Orchard Road, said the haze has caused some irritation to his eyes, and he may stay indoors or purchase masks if the haze worsens. However, he felt the situation was relatively tolerable compared to air quality in his hometown. “I am quite immune to this as the Philippines is also experiencing air pollution from vehicles,” he said.

Another tourist, Ms Ada Dyke, 23, from Nigeria, who was at the Fullerton Bay area with her husband and two-year-old son, said she has experienced difficulties breathing and has caught the flu. However, compared to Kuala Lumpur — the family’s stop before Singapore — she felt the conditions here were an improvement. “We came from Malaysia and the air here is so much better. In Malaysia, it was really painful to take in the air or even swallow. But, if the haze worsens, I may be staying indoors as I have a child with me,” she said.

Others were happy to carry on with their plans despite the discomfort brought on by the haze. Ms Caroline Hutterer, 21, a tourist from Germany travelling with her family, said they would visit Singapore’s outdoor offerings as planned. “The haze doesn’t affect us (for now). We will still have our (fair share) of exploring indoor and outdoor attractions such as Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay.”

An Australian tourist, Mr Ricky Charylo, 64, who was at Orchard Road, said he was only spending three days here. Noting that the haze has been an annual problem, he added: “It is horrible needing to think of it and knowing that nothing much is done in Indonesia to put a stop to it every year.”