Singaporeans band together to fight haze

Lee Min Kok, My Paper AsiaOne 5 Oct 15;

EXPECT air quality today to be similar to yesterday's.

The National Environment Agency said yesterday at 6pm that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the high end of the moderate range (51 to 100) and the low end of the unhealthy range (101 to 200).

It may enter the mid-section of the unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in.

But even amid the hazy weather and grey skies that have plagued Singapore over the past few weeks, there have been bright spots to chase the gloom away.

Examples of Singaporeans looking out for each other and performing acts of kindness can be found on social media, while different initiatives have emerged to help combat the haze.


For instance, Facebook user Josiah Ng was touched to receive a message from his driver after booking a cab on Sept 24, which read: "Hello Mr Ng, I am your taxi booking. The haze is very bad. You stay indoor (sic) first. I will SMS you again when I am here, so you don't need to wait in the haze. Will not start meter first."

Mr Ng said that the driver had been sending the same message to his other customers.

While there were reports of people cashing in by reselling N95 masks at a higher price during the last haze crisis in 2013, one hardware shop is doing the opposite.

Home - located on the ground floor of Block 442, Clementi Avenue 3 - was spotted bearing a sign in English and Chinese that read: "Free mask for children and senior citizens."


The people behind local kindness movement Stand Up For Singapore last month kickstarted a fund-raising campaign called I Will Be Your Shelter to buy air purifiers and filters for the elderly and needy in the North Bridge Road area.

So far, it has raised about $6,000 through crowdfunding site Indiegogo and donations. It distributed 40 air filters and 10 purifiers to the residents on Sept 19.

For Cai Yinzhou, the health of Singapore's homeless and migrant workers was foremost on his mind when he embarked on his 3,000 Masks, 1 Singapore project to help his target demographic.

Meanwhile, sisters Cheryl and Charlene Lie launched their mask-collection drive, Let's Help Kalimantan, which aims to help Indonesians cope with severe haze conditions that have reportedly hit PSI levels of nearly 2,000. In Indonesia, a PSI reading above 350 is considered hazardous.


Several volunteer groups have also sprung up, such as the Haze Elimination Action Team (Heat) and People's Movement To Stop Haze, which aim to raise public awareness of the companies that are responsible for causing the forest fires.

Besides publishing tips on Facebook to help Singaporeans guard against hazy conditions, Heat intends to sue the companies.

The People's Movement To Stop Haze has been particularly vocal on advocating the use of products made from sustainable sources. Its campaign, We Breathe What We Buy, is trying to collect 50,000 pledges from Singaporeans to show that there is a demand for sustainable products.

Number of people diagnosed with eczema up, even before haze
KK Women's and Children's Hospital has seen, on average, eight to 10 new cases a day, up from five to eight last year. Even adults are not spared.
Vimita Mohandas, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 5 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Kayla Lim is among the 20 per cent of children of school-going age who suffer from eczema. In mild cases, the skin is scaly, red and itchy, while in severe cases, the skin can blister or even bleed.

The five-year-old’s skin flared up about four weeks ago and her parents said the several doctors she has gone to seen have blamed it on the haze in Singapore.

Sufferers of eczema may be unable to resist the urge to scratch, which may result in bleeding, leaving the skin open to infection. However, some doctors have said it will be difficult to prove any condition is 100 per cent due to haze.

According to some hospitals, even before the onset of the haze, an increased number of people have been diagnosed with eczema. KK Women's and Children's Hospital has seen, on average, eight to 10 new cases a day, up from five to eight last year. Even adults are not spared.

Mr Kern Tan Seet, who has been battling eczema for the past 18 years, said his flare-ups are due to various factors such as stress, diet and lifestyle. He shared some tips on how he manages his condition, especially during the haze period.

"To avoid the condition (from worsening), I always stay in the cool area, turn on the fan or air-con,” he said. “And it cannot be too cold.”

“I also apply lotion and cream on the whole body instead of just the affected areas,” he added. “I changed my diet by avoiding seafood, except fish, and I take more vegetables, less eggs and not too much bean products."

One family doctor said that over the past few weeks, he has been seeing an increase in the number of children visiting his clinic for skin-related conditions. However, he said it could be due to various factors.

Said Dr Philip Koh, a general practitioner at the Healthway Tampines Clinic: "Air pollution with pollutants entering eczematous skin can also affect (it). It may not be the primary factor all the time. Different people have different triggers and for you it could be food, for me it could be air pollution.

“For those who are perhaps affected by the pollutants in the air, for these people, yes, the flare-up could be due to that, but we can never be certain that it is totally due to that as a primary causative factor."

Dr Koh stressed that it is important for eczema sufferers to moisturise the skin regularly. For those with eczema who spend long periods of time in air-conditioned places, he warned that doing so could have an adverse effect, as their skin could become dry and this could worsen the condition.

- CNA/ek

Some charity, sporting events carry on as winds ease haze
Janice Tai, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Oct 15;

Charity walks and sporting events were among activities to beat the haze yesterday as south-easterly winds eased the smoky conditions across Singapore.

Clearer skies were evident over many areas as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading dropped from a range of 144 to 178 at 1am to between 78 and 92 in the moderate range as of 8pm yesterday.

Today, the air quality is expected to be in the high end of the moderate range (51-100) and low end of the unhealthy range (101-200).

"It may enter the mid-section of the unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in," said a National Environment Agency spokesman.

The air quality has been improving because south-easterly winds have kept denser haze from Sumatra away. However, widespread haze still persists in parts of central and southern Sumatra, while some haze from Kalimantan has also spread to the sea areas south-east of Singapore.

The haze on Saturday made organisers cancel part of the Singapore leg of the Fina Swimming World Cup held at the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre, an open-air facility.

But other events, such as the one organised by animal welfare group Save Our Street Dogs, went ahead as planned. It held its fundraising walk and run at East Coast Park on Saturday night, although only 500 of the expected 1,200 participants turned up.

"Even though the skies were clear, the PSI read 240, prompting many to call for a cancellation, and it was stressful having to make the final decision," said its president Siew Tuck Wah.

Around 1,000 Bedok residents went for a 2.5km walk as part of a health awareness carnival yesterday morning. Participant Jessica Sim, 33, said: "There were seniors and young families walking, but I didn't see anyone wearing masks as it didn't look like there was much haze."

However, the Health Promotion Board decided not to take any chances. It cancelled its healthy lifestyle festival at Toa Payoh HDB Hub yesterday morning based on the previous evening's forecast. "This is in consideration of the wide spectrum of the public who may attend the outdoor roadshow, including seniors and children, as well as the expected attendance of over 4,000 people at the roadshow," said its spokesman.

A total of 41 hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday. The low count was due to cloud cover over parts of the island.

Lingering haze casts pall on businesses
Nisha Ramchandani, The Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE - THE prolonged haze continues to disrupt businesses and events in Singapore as visitorship to attractions declines and events are cancelled, leaving firms still counting the costs.

Over the weekend, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) remained largely in the unhealthy range of 101-200, while the three-hour PSI crossed the "200" threshold on Saturday afternoon. This prompted organisers to cancel the Saturday evening finals of the Fina Swimming World Cup in Singapore.

According to Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA), early estimates suggest a 5-10 per cent drop in visitorship across the board at its members' attractions. One outdoor attraction has seen numbers plunge by up to 40 per cent.

"If the haze continues, we're expecting cancellations or diversion of traffic from overseas," said Mr Cheong.

The hardest hit are outdoor attractions as some tour groups tweak their itineraries to opt for indoor attractions instead, such as the local museums or Madame Tussauds.

While October isn't a peak period for inbound tourism, business costs will mount if the haze stretches to end-October, Mr Cheong added. He expects a rise in medical costs as staff - especially those stationed outdoors - have been falling ill more frequently.

Most of ASA's members have set up a designated room for customers and staff to rest, while employees are being given more frequent water breaks and rest breaks.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun reckons the extent of the damage on the tourism industry hinges on how protracted the haze is.

"The longer this carries on, the larger the impact will be," he said. "The challenge for the sector, even without the (haze), is that arrivals from the region were already down."

Tourist arrivals dipped nearly 2 per cent year on year to 8.78 million in the first seven months, based on preliminary data from the Singapore Tourism Board, thanks to the strong Singapore dollar and a slowdown in China's economy. Source markets which registered a decline in tourist volumes include Indonesia (-11 per cent), Russia (-32 per cent) and Malaysia (-4 per cent).

Mr Song estimates potential a revenue loss of between S$400 and S$500 a day from every tourist that decides to eschew the country for cleaner pastures.

Over at Sentosa, visitorship has fallen 20 per cent since the haze started acting up.

According to divisional director (island operations) of Sentosa Leisure Management, Koh Piak Huat, the island may suspend its outdoor attractions if the PSI level crosses the 300 threshold or if visitor experience is adversely impacted.

"If the PSI rises to levels where visibility becomes a safety consideration for our cable car operations, we will also suspend the cable car rides until the situation improves," Mr Koh added.

At the Singapore Flyer, sales have dropped slightly year on year in September due to the haze, with walk-in ticket sales being the most affected. The attraction is allowing passengers to re-schedule their rides since the haze tends to be unpredictable, a spokesman said.

Restaurants and bars are also feeling the heat as the haze stubbornly lingers over the city-state.

Howard Lo, owner of Tanuki Raw at Orchard Road, estimates that it costs the outlet up to S$3,000 in lost revenue when it has to shut down its al fresco area on hazy days.

"We're still running at full house (but) we can't use half the restaurant," he said, adding that the number of patrons drops by about 35 per cent on such days.

The group owns food and beverage establishments such as Standing Sushi Bar and The Secret Mermaid.

The haze is also causing a slight decline in business at another of his restaurants in Queen Street, despite the indoor location. "People don't want to stray too far from the office," Mr Lo said.

Hinoki Japanese Dining at Shenton Way, which is facing a similar problem, has got creative to tackle the issue. The restaurant has started offering deliveries, taking orders directly to customers as the poor air quality deters customers from coming to them.

A number of events have been cancelled or disrupted in recent days due to the haze too, including Pedestrian Night - where a stretch of Orchard Road is closed to traffic the first Saturday of every month - and open-air picnic Diner en Blanc. The 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Singapore and Afghanistan this Thursday reportedly may be called off as well if the haze worsens.

Ways to keep your pets safe from the haze
Sean Yap, The New Paper AsiaOne 6 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE - Many of us have felt the effect of the prolonged haze situation at present. But some are also becoming increasingly aware of the impact unhealthy air conditions have on animals and pets.

Pets generally respond to the haze in similar ways to humans, veterinarian Dr Rachel Tong told AsiaOne. Common symptoms include respiratory problems, coughing and sneezing, as well as eye inflammation and conjunctivitis.

But she was quick to point out that like humans, the majority of pets that are in healthy condition would not be severely affected by the haze. Rather, it is those that have pre-existing heart or respiratory conditions that may be at greater risk.

In a post on their Facebook page, Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre also warned that young animals (below one year old), geriatric animals (over six years old) or creatures with kidney, liver or eye conditions may be in greater danger.

Dr Tong, who is with Spring Veterinary Care, also said that smaller household pets, including rabbits and pocket pets like hamsters and guinea pigs, may be slightly more susceptible to suffering from haze-related illnesses. These animals are more delicate due to a smaller lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of smoke inhalation.

When it comes to protecting pets from the haze, there are specific tips and suggestions for different types of pets.

Here are some ways to care for your pet during the haze:

Rabbits and pocket pets

For rabbits and pocket pets, Dr Tong advises owners to ensure that they have access to ample amounts of hay or food pellets. Make sure that its food and water are kept clean and changed regularly to ensure that they are dust free.

Rabbit welfare group House Rabbits Society Singapore also put up an advisory on their Facebook page last month. The group advises rabbit owners to keep their pets indoors in well-ventilated spaces.

Another tip is to offer small pieces of fresh and juicy fruit like blueberries, apples or watermelons, which are rich in antioxidants that could give their immune systems a boost.

Dogs and cats

As for people with dogs and cats, a number of animal welfare groups advised that they be kept indoors during this period and to keep walks in the unhealthy air outside to a minimum.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) also advised that walks should be avoided altogether if the Pollutant Standards Index crosses into the "Very Unhealthy" range.

SPCA suggested that for dogs, owners should play with them indoors using games that stimulate their minds, such as hide-and-seek, so that they would be able to work off their energy without being exposed to the haze.

Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Care also cautioned that extra attention should be paid to flat-faced dogs and cats, such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats, which would be more susceptible to the effects of haze.

Nevertheless, even if dogs and cats do go outside, Dr Tong stressed it was important to make sure that the animals were kept clean.

"Perhaps owners can wipe their dogs or cats with wet wipes or damp cloths after they come back inside, so that the dirty dust particles do not remain on their fur," said Dr Tong.

She also advised pet owners to consider installing air purifiers and use it when their pets are kept indoors, saying that a number of pet owners had already taken this step.

SPCA also advised against pet owners putting makeshift masks on their pets to protect them.

"It would be dangerous for the pets with the masks obscuring their mouths, not allowing them to dispel heat which might, in turn, lead to heatstroke," SPCA said.

Fish and terrapins

Not immediately known to many is that the haze can also affect aquatic pets such as fish and terrapins, even if they are kept indoors.

"It is not immediately obvious, but all that dust in the air will affect the water quality and could also change the acidity of the water, making it unhealthy for the animals," Dr Tong revealed.

She added that fish owners should take precautions by washing the filters and changing the water in their fish tanks or ponds more frequently.

Prevention is better than cure

Dr Tong shared that since the haze began about a month ago, her clinic has seen a definite increase in the number of pets brought in with haze-related issues, but most owners have brought in their animals for checks and to get additional medication even if they are not ill.

According to Dr Tong, many owners are increasingly taking preventive measures by taking them to the clinic to be checked or to ask for additional supplements.

"Keeping pets healthy now will certainly be better in the long-term, as owners will not have to worry about accumulating medical bills to treat them should they get sick. Prevention is always better than cure," said Dr Tong.

- See more at: