Best of our wild blogs: 29 Aug 16

Wild fun for kids during the September school holidays!
wild shores of singapore

'Orange' water at Berlayar Creek
wild shores of singapore

Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus) @ Lim Chu Kang Lane 6F
Monday Morgue

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41 confirmed cases of Zika in Aljunied

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — A day after confirming the first locally transmitted case of Zika, the Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed that 40 more patients have been confirmed in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area, through the tracing of past cases.

And more cases could emerge, given that the majority of Zika cases have no symptoms or only mild ones, and mosquitoes in affected areas may already have been infected, the ministry said on Sunday (Aug 28), at a press conference held by MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The MOH, warning of further community transmission, said other areas of concern at this point include Khatib Camp, Sembawang Drive and places where the construction workers live, including Kranji Road, Joo Chiat Place, Senoko South Road, Toh Guan Road East and Lorong 101 Changi.

Of the 41 Zika cases, 34 patients have fully recovered. Seven still have symptoms and are recovering at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the MOH said. Isolation of positive cases may have limited effect in managing the spread, the authorities said, as it announced intensified operations to clamp down on mosquito breeding.

The Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which also transmits dengue. The virus has been linked to serious birth defects in children whose mothers were infected during the pregnancy.

On Saturday, the ministry disclosed that a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living in Block 102 on Aljunied Crescent had become the first to contract the disease locally. The woman, referred to as Patient A, was diagnosed on August 25.

But even before that, a clinic in the Aljunied area — Sims Drive Medical Clinic — had informed MOH of an “unusual increase” in cases with fever, rash and joint pain on Aug 22. The next day, MOH officials had visited the clinic and discussed the cases with the general practitioner. The “initial hypothesis”, it said, was that it was a cluster of mild viral illness transmitted from person to person.

It then made arrangements for the clinic to refer new cases to the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) for further testing, and started tracing past cases for further review and if needed, testing.

On Aug 25, the MOH had gone to the contractor of a nearby construction site for records of workers with fever. That day same, Patient A had gone to the doctor after she developed a fever, rash and conjunctivitis, and was referred to the CDC.

Explaining the developments on Sunday, the MOH said so far the earliest case dates back to July 31. Among the patients, 36 are foreign workers working at a construction site on 60 Sims Drive, four are Singaporeans and one – Patient A - is Malaysian.

Unlike the first case of Zika to emerge in Singapore in May, these 41 patients had not travelled to Zika-infected areas recently so they were likely to have been infected in Singapore.

Asked why the MOH only announced the case of Patient A two days after she was diagnosed - when testing only takes about three to four hours - Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the ministry was only alerted to the possibility of more cases when Patient A was confirmed.

“Now that we know there is a case ..we’ve therefore gone back to all these cases that were surfaced before, and checked their blood tests and thats why we have discovered more cases...out of the 41 cases, I think some 36 cases were a result of this active testing of the patients who were in the areas of concern,” said Mr Gan, speaking to reporters after the press conference on Sunday.

Pressed further, he added that some cases required “double confirmation”.

Dr Derrick Heng, the MOH’s group director for public health, pointed out during the press conference that test results of the other cases only came back late Saturday night.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam, who diagnosed Singapore’s first Zika case at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital earlier this year, called the MOH out on not starting investigations earlier.

“Every single mild case of fever, they should have investigated, it was a chance to break the cycle. Kudos to the GP who picked up the trend. We must remember that Zika is very mild, compared to dengue. Patients may not be sick enough to go to hospital but to the GP instead. So the GP now is the gatekeeper,” Dr Leong said.

MacPherson Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling, who oversees the ward that Patient A lives in, said that it would have been ideal if the MOH had acted on any suspicion earlier.

“It would have been most ideal to take a more conservative approach at that point in time, if there had been early suspicion, to check if there were any positive cases. But I suppose MOH would have taken the balanced approach between alarming everyone, and doing proper checks,”said Ms Tin.

But Member of Parliament Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC), head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Healthcare, pointed out that none of the cases had a travel history, which “significantly” reduced the likelihood that they were infected.

“It depends on the risk profile, we have to remember that the problem with Zika is that most cases have no symptoms. It’s not like Sars or Mers, or dengue, which are easier to detect,” said Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon.

He added: “It was very good that the GP detected the cases, all credit to this GP who was alert enough.”

Why the MOH did not announce the Zika cases earlier
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 29 Aug 16;

Q) When was the earliest case that Ministry of Health backtracked to?

Dr Derrick Heng (MOH Group Director for Public Health Group): The (earliest) case that we know of was July 31. We would not have picked up on all the cases, (so) we would not be able to pinpoint definitively the first index case (patient zero).

Mr Koh Peng Keng (MOH Group Director, Operations): The first case we knew of was patient A (the 47-year-old Malaysian woman whose case was reported on Saturday). The rest of it we had to work with the GPs, to do a lot of tracking to try and look back.

Dr Heng: We went back to look at people who were part of the GP (cases), and (at the) construction site, the people who had reported symptoms in the past. We took samples...the samples (tested) positive sometime late last night (on Saturday).

Mr Koh: The GP alerted us of this unusual cluster of cases with mild symptoms, it’s only (then) we went back to check....most of them had already recovered. So it was a look back...Initial hypothesis was that it was just some mild viral infection that transmits from person to person. Zika was not specifically suspected at that point when the GP was seeing this group.

Q) Saturday was confirmation that the woman (patient A) had Zika. But you had preliminary results, did you start looking before Saturday, or did you only start work on Saturday when you had confirmed results?

Dr Heng: We started preparations when the preliminary results (came out). But we had to wait for confirmation in order not to create false alarm.

Q) Patient A was at CDC on Aug 25, and it takes about three hours to do the test. So you should have known by that night.

Professor Leo Yee Sin (clinical director of Communicable Disease Centre): Her presence at CDC from the time we received her as a case, to the time she did the blood test, all this is actually a very compressed period of time, including getting her back for further assessment.

Q) The first case was announced on Saturday, and it jumped to 41 cases. Could the MOH have announced all these cases earlier?

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong: Part of the reason that we have discovered more cases is because we have now gone back to the cases that were seen before by doctors. They were not suspected to have Zika, because they have no travel history and so on. Now that we know there is a case ...we’ve therefore gone back to all these cases that were surfaced before, and checked their blood tests, and that’s why we have discovered more cases, as a result of the first case. So out of the 41 cases, I think some 36 cases were a result of this active testing of the patients who were in the areas of concern, whom we felt there was the potential they would be infected by Zika. Then we went back to relook at their test results. Some were even retested to determine whether they were infected by Zika.

Q) Why did it take two days before the MOH announced patient A’s case?

Mr Gan: Some required double confirmation. So first we tested them on the urine test...various steps of testing.

Q) So it’s not like you knew about it earlier, but was keeping quiet about it?

Mr Gan: No, of course not.

41 cases of locally transmitted Zika infection in Singapore: MOH, NEA
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) has confirmed 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore, it announced on Sunday (Aug 28). Of these, 34 people have fully recovered while the other seven, who are still symptomatic and potentially infectious, are recovering at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

In a press conference on Sunday, MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that all the cases are residents or workers in the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive area. They are not known to have travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, and are thus likely to have been infected in Singapore.

"At this point, the community transmission appears to be localised within the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive cluster," said Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, Director of Medical Services at MOH.

Of the cases, 36 are foreign workers who worked at a construction site at 60 Sims Drive. Others include four Singaporean men aged between 21 and 65.

The announcement comes a day after NEA and MOH said a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent was Singapore's first reported case of locally transmitted Zika. She is the only female out of the 41 cases.


Aside from the Aljunied and Sims Drive cluster, areas of concern include Khatib Camp, where a 21-year-old patient is serving National Service, and Sembawang Drive, where a 30-year-old patient who works at the Sims Drive construction site lives. Places where the construction workers live – Joo Chiat Place, Senoko South Road, Toh Guan East and Lorong 101 Changi – are the other areas of concern.

“Given that the Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito vector, MOH cannot rule out further community transmission in Singapore, since some of those tested positive also live or work in other parts of Singapore,” said Assoc Prof Ong.

MOH will continue to screen the close contacts of confirmed cases. It is also carrying out Zika testing on others living and working in the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive and other areas of concern who have symptoms of fever and rash.

The Health Ministry has also worked with the contractors at a construction site at Sims Drive to screen the workers who were recently reported by a general practitioner to have symptoms of fever, rash and conjunctivitis. The authorities have also verified that so far, there are no symptomatic cases at Khatib Camp.

MOH has also alerted all GPs, polyclinics and hospitals to be extra vigilant and to immediately report patients with symptoms associated with Zika to the ministry.

Since Saturday, NEA has intensified vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive. More than 200 officers have been deployed to inspect the area.

“We expect to identify more positive cases. Given that the majority of Zika cases are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and mosquitoes in the affected area may already have been infected, isolation of positive cases may have limited effect to managing the spread," said NEA and MOH in a joint press release on Sunday.


According to studies, the microcephaly risk for babies born to Zika-infected mothers is between 1 and 10 per cent, said Associate Professor Arijit Biswas, Head and Senior Consultant of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at National University Hospital.

Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected compared to babies of the same sex and age.

According to MOH and NEA, pregnant women should take precautions if living, working, studying or travelling to an affected area. If they do not have symptoms, routine antenatal care is sufficient. Individuals working, studying or living in an affected area should adopt safe sex practices or consider abstinence throughout the women's pregnancies, MOH and NEA added.

Besides Singapore, 57 other countries have reported cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection.

- CNA/jq

More Zika cases expected to emerge: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong
Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: More local Zika cases are expected to emerge over time, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Sunday (Aug 28). This will be partly due to the fact that active testing is being carried out in affected areas, as well as the possible emergence of new imported cases, he added.

Mr Gan was speaking to the media after the Ministry of Health confirmed 41 cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection at a press conference.

“Singapore has a very high volume of international travel, therefore imported cases are almost inevitable,” said Mr Gan, explaining that as many Zika cases are asymptomatic, there is a “very high likelihood” of the virus being imported to Singapore.

He added that for these imported cases, the likelihood of local transmission “is also very high“. This is why the Health Ministry is also working with doctors to be on the lookout for Zika cases, in order to identify clusters and carry out vector control.

Mr Gan also said that vector control is the most effective way to protect against zika - not just for residents in affected areas but for people living in all locations. “This is because the Aedes mosquito is present in Singapore, and it is very likely for this disease to be transmitted locally.” Vectors are organisms that transmit diseases.

On Saturday, a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living in Aljunied Crescent was confirmed as Singapore's first reported case of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection.

After tests results came in overnight, the Health Ministry confirmed on Sunday that there are 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection. Of these, 34 people have fully recovered.

Mr Gan said that part of the reason for the jump in numbers is that after the first locally transmitted case was reported, the Health Ministry looked back into cases where people were seen by doctors but were not suspected to have Zika. These cases were initially not suspected for Zika as the patients had no travel history, said Mr Gan.

“Now that we know that there’s a case in the Sims Drive area, we have therefore gone back.... to all these cases that were surfaced before, and checked their blood tests and so on. And this is why we discovered more cases, as a result of the first case,” he said.

“It was not a case whereby we did not know, and there’s sudden emergence of these cases. Out of 41 cases, 36 were (detected) due to this active testing.”

- CNA/mz

No attempts to cover up Zika cases: Chee Hong Tat
Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat late Sunday (Aug 28) rejected suggestions that there have been attempts to cover up Zika cases in Singapore.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) had announced earlier Sunday that there were a total of 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive area, up from one case the day before.

Mr Chee noted on Facebook that some people have been wondering about the jump in the number of cases. "A few even asked if there had been attempts to cover up these cases. This is certainly not true," he wrote.

Mr Chee, who is also Minister of State for Communications and Information, referred to the timeline of events outlined by MOH and NEA. Following confirmation from the Communicable Disease Centre that a 47-year-old woman living in Aljunied Crescent was infected with Zika in Singapore, tests were conducted on 123 people who were recently or currently symptomatic, MOH and NEA said.

The Minister of State added that his colleagues in MOH and NEA have been "working hard over the past few days" to provide timely updates on the latest developments and to coordinate with residents, community leaders and healthcare professionals on the follow-up actions. "This includes colleagues from the laboratories who are doing confirmation tests for suspected cases - they have been working till way past midnight to complete the tests, so that the results can be announced in a timely manner," he stated.

"You can see from the timeline that MOH and NEA have been proactive in engaging the different stakeholders to identify possible cases, conducting screening and testing to identify the confirmed cases, and promptly announcing such cases to the public once they have been confirmed," Mr Chee said.

The opposition Workers' Party had earlier released a statement calling on the Government to clarify the timeline for public notification of the Zika cases. "Prompt public notification of Zika cases is important so that members of the public in the affected areas can take the necessary precautions and so that stakeholders can take vector control measures," it said.

Mr Chee noted that Zika is generally a mild disease and 80 per cent of patients do not show symptoms. "It is possible that more people may have been infected by the virus but they are not aware," he wrote. He urged people in Singapore to take precautions by helping to curb mosquito breeding, and by applying insect repellent regularly.

- CNA/ly

Battle against mosquitoes to be stepped up over next fortnight
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — Intensified operations to control mosquito breeding, which began on Saturday, will continue in Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive over the next two weeks.

These operations include inspecting all premises, ground and congregation areas, ultra-low volume (ULV) misting and spraying of premises and thermal fogging of outdoor areas, more frequent drain flushing and oiling to prevent breeding, and public outreach and distribution of insect repellent.

They will also be carried out in “areas of concern” flagged by the authorities, namely Khatib Camp, Sembawang Drive, Kranji Road, Joo Chiat Place, Senoko South Road, Toh Guan Road East and Lorong 101 Changi.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed that there were 41 confirmed Zika cases in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area — the first cases of local transmission here. The area includes a construction site at Sims Drive and dormitories and workers’ quarters.

In total, the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) operations and checks are set to cover more than 6,000 premises including 5,000 HDB flats and workers’ quarters.

More than 200 NEA officers were deployed on Saturday to inspect the area, conduct vector control, as well as to reach out to residents. The NEA said it has successfully accessed more than 1,800 premises to carry out checks for mosquito breeding.

Nineteen breeding habitats were detected and destroyed, of which 13 were in homes and six in common areas. Of the two dormitories in Kranji and Senoko South that were inspected, one breeding site was detected in Kranji. A stop work order was also issued to the construction site at Sims Drive on Saturday, for creating conditions for mosquito breeding.

The NEA said its staff had visited 14 blocks in the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive, distributed Zika information leaflets and insect repellent, and continued to reach out to the rest of the blocks in the area yesterday. NEA staff started visiting residents in Sembawang Drive yesterday evening.

From as early as 9am yesterday, the typically sleepy residential estate of Aljunied Crescent was abuzz with a flurry of activity, as officers conducted fogging and misting operations, checked drains, and knocked on residents’ doors to hand out flyers and bottles of insect repellent.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Ministry of Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor, who was distributing flyers to residents in the Sims Drive area, said that residents so far had been “cooperative” and were willing to open up their homes for officers to check for potential mosquito breeding areas and let their premises be misted. Homeowners who were not in will find letters left for them instructing them to make future appointments.

When asked if the ministry would expand efforts islandwide, Dr Khor would only say that the priority is to reduce the size of the Aedes mosquito population. “Residents should play their role in helping to control the population by taking steps like the five-step mozzie wipeout, checking their homes are free of mosquito breeding sites and being vigilant by informing a doctor of potential symptoms, as well as (sharing) their travel history, especially if they have been to areas affected by Zika.”

Speaking to reporters after a media briefing on the spate of cases yesterday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that vector control efforts need to be “redoubled”, to reduce mosquito breeding sites and minimise the risk of transmission.

“I think this is an effort that must be sustained, and we must continue to do so. It’s not easy to achieve good results, partly because of weather conditions in the tropical area, which is very conducive for mosquitoes to breed. Therefore, we need to re-double our efforts in managing our vector control,” he said.

In a joint statement, the MOH and the NEA advised those working or living in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area, especially pregnant women, to monitor their health.

They should seek medical attention especially if they have symptoms of fever and rash, and inform their doctors of the location of their homes and workplaces.

Pregnant women are especially susceptible as Zika, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, can cause microcephaly, a birth defect where the head of the infant is abnormally small, in their unborn foetuses. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TOH EE MING

Sudden spike in complaints triggered alarm: Doctors
KELLY NG Today Online 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — The three doctors at Sims Drive Medical Clinic who raised the alarm that led to the discovery of the first locally-transmitted Zika cases said they first sensed something amiss in the second week of this month.

Dr Tan May Yen was the first to flag the sudden spike in complaints of fever, rashes and joint pain. At its peak, there was an “unusually high” number of about 10 such cases a day, compared to between zero and three cases normally, said her co-worker Dr Lim Chien Chuan on Monday (Aug 29).

What stumped them was how the patients who agreed to be tested for dengue, chikungunya, measles and rubella were cleared of these conditions, even after repeated tests.

The possibility of them contracting Zika was not raised, as most of these patients — a bulk of whom are foreign workers who worked at a construction sites in the vicinity — had not travelled to countries with ongoing Zika outbreaks. “Most of them had very mild symptoms ... But we were seeing more than (the) usual (number of cases) and all with the same symptoms ... (We were) not sure about (whether it could be) Zika as most of the cases did not exhibit the relevant travel history,” said Dr Lim.

Dr Tan, Dr Lim and a third colleague, Dr Chi Wei Ming, started discussing the diagnoses of cases each of them handled, and decided to bring the matter up to the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Aug 22.

After some tracing, 41 confirmed patients have been found in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area, as of noon Sunday. Of the 41 Zika cases, 34 patients have fully recovered. Seven still have symptoms and are recovering at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the MOH said. Thirty-six of the patients are foreign workers working at a construction site on 60 Sims Drive.

As of noon on Monday, five patients who visited Sims Drive Medical Clinic — two women and three men — were sent to the CDC for further tests.

When the MOH confirmed on Saturday that their patients had Zika, the doctors at Sims Drive Medical Clinic felt torn. While their puzzle had been solved, it meant there were now locally-transmitted Zika cases.

“On one hand, we know what is wrong with these patients. But on the flipside, it means Zika is now in the community, so everybody has to put in efforts and (take) the necessary steps to control the symptoms,” said Dr Chi.

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Most sports events continue despite haze

Yogaraj Panditurai, Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Aug 16;

The friendly match between the Cerebral Palsy Football team and the Parliament team went ahead yesterday despite hazy conditions. Mr Shafiq Ariff (in blue) is seen shielding the ball from MP Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) as MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) watched. The match ended 6-4 to the Cerebral Palsy team.

Although the haze blanketed most parts of Singapore yesterday, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) ranging from 68 to 121 (unhealthy), most sports events around the country carried on and participants enjoyed their day out with no hitches.

Yesterday's Puma Night Run at the Seletar Aerospace Park, which began at 6pm, saw the 12km and 6km Open runs go on as scheduled. All races would have been cancelled if the 24-hour PSI exceeded 200.

"It's heartening to see the great turnout and energetic participants despite the gloomy outlook," said Mr Gabriel Yap, Puma South-east Asia's marketing head.

At the Queenstown Stadium, the national cerebral palsy football team played a friendly match against the Parliament team at 3pm, with the former winning 6-4.

The National Para-Swimming Championships also continued as planned, with 116 para-athletes competing at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex.

Mrs Michele Liauw, 41, whose 10-year-old son Jeremiah took part in the meet, said of the haze: "It wasn't that bad. Not something that would kill you, and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

"Besides, I'm sure if it was that bad, the officials would know better and would have called it off. We've all seen worse haze than (yesterday) anyway."

However, the ActiveSG Football Academy called off its morning training sessions yesterday when the 24-hour PSI exceeded 100 at 7am. It measured 90 to 143, which was in the unhealthy range. The cancellation was announced in a Facebook post. The Academy will continue to monitor the air quality and will cancel training today if the 24-hour PSI level exceeds 100 at 7am.

Mr Rajan T., 55, whose six-year-old granddaughter Putri Omiraisha missed out on training at the Serangoon Stadium, said: "The children can't help but feel disappointed. But calling the training off is a good move because health is a very important concern when it comes to young kids.

"You never know what might happen and how the haze might affect a child's health. It's always better to take precautions."

Organisers of the Safra Singapore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon, which takes place today, will also monitor the three-hour PSI closely.

If the reading is between 101 and 200, the run will continue, but adjustments will be made to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. Should it exceed 200, the event will be cancelled.

Given the air quality forecast, the National Environment Agency advises the public to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. Those who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

Additional reporting by Jean Iau

Air quality expected to improve on Monday: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore is expected to improve on Monday (Aug 29), said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Sunday.

In an advisory issued on Sunday, NEA said the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Moderate range.

As at 8pm, the 24-hr PSI was 69 to 93, in the Moderate range.

“Slightly hazy conditions can still be expected for the rest of today. For tomorrow, the prevailing winds are forecast to strengthen and blow from the south or southeast, and a further improvement in the air quality can be expected,” said NEA.

Thundery showers are forecast in the late morning and early afternoon on Monday.

“Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” NEA added.

Hazy skies across Singapore on Friday were accompanied by a burning smell as haze from central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds, according the NEA. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, and was highest in the west at 7pm at 114.

- CNA/jq

Air quality in Singapore improves, returns to 'Moderate' range
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore has improved with the 24-hour PSI returning to the Moderate range at 70-100 on Sunday (Aug 28) at 9am.

The 3-hour PSI was at 70 while the 1-hour PM2.5 was in the Normal range in all regions.

The improved air quality comes after Singapore experienced haze conditions since Friday. The National Environment Agency (NEA) said, the continued improvement since yesterday is due to less dense haze from central Sumatra being blown into Singapore by prevailing winds.

Further improvement can be expected with prevailing winds forecast to shift, to blow from the southwest or south. Showers are also forecast in the late morning and early afternoon, NEA said.

Cholina Em posted pictures of the clearer skies on Sunday morning on Twitter.

Hazy skies across Singapore on Friday were accompanied by a burning smell as haze from central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds, according the NEA. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, and was highest in the west at 7pm at 114.

The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity, NEA said, adding that reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” NEA said.

The PSI incorporates six types of pollutants - sulphur dioxide, particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), particulate matter that is 10 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Of the six, PM2.5 is considered particularly hazardous as the small size of the particles enters the human lungs more easily.

- CNA/mn

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Indonesia: Some 300 families in Riau flee homes due to wildfire

Antara 28 Aug 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Some 300 families from three sub-districts in Riau province began fleeing their homes on Saturday (August 27) due to land and forest fires, police said.

"The smoke was so thick that local residents had to be evacuated soon," chief of the Riau provincial polices public relations service, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Guntur Aryo Tejo, stated.

Most of the evacuees were oil palm farmers living on private plantations, he noted.

The three affected sub-districts are Bonai Darussalam, Pujud-Rokan Hilir and Mandau-Bengkalis sub-district.

He disclosed that the Rokan Hulu police resort has sent its personnel to help with the evacuation efforts.

"In addition, the police have also distributed free masks among residents," he informed.

The smoke on Saturday was the result of land fire which had been affecting the area since August 22. The situation worsened as the land fire continued to spread, leading to thick clouds of smoke billowing, he explained.

To make things worse, strong winds moved in the direction of the residential areas, forcing residents to evacuate to safer areas to avoid upper tract respiratory infection, he underlined.

He let it be known that the affected residents were evacuated to a soccer field in Jurong hamlet.

(Reported by Fazar Muhardi & Anggi Romadhoni/Uu.S012/INE/KR-BSR)

Hundreds of Riau Residents Evacuated Due to Haze
Tempo 28 Aug 16;

TEMPO.CO, Pekanbaru - Haze from forest and peat land fires in Riau has taken its toll on the activity of residents in two districts.

A total of 300 households in Rokan Hulu and Rokan Hilir districts have been evacuated as the result of exposure to thick smoke.

"The smoke has got thick due to the activity of extinguishing the fires,” Head of Public Relations of Riau Police Commissioner Guntur Aryo Tejo on Saturday (27/8).

According to Guntur, forest and peat land fires have occurred since Monday (22/8).

As a result of the operation of extinguishing the fires, haze was blown off by the wind, disrupting activities of the residents.


Number of Haze-Related Diseases Rise as Haze Hits Riau
Tempo 28 Aug 16;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The number of residents suffering from smoke-related diseases due to the recent haze in Bengkalis, Riau, has risen as haze from forest and peat land fires hit the province.

Head of Technical Implementation Unit for Crisis Center of RIau Health Agency, Jon Kenedy, said that on August 27, at least 69 residents in Bengkalis fell ill due to haze that hit the regency.

Of that number, 63 people suffered from acute respiratory infections, four people suffered from by skin irritation, one person suffered from and one person suffered from eye irritation.

"Haze in Bengkalis was severe enough that many residents have begun to feel the impacts hurt," Jon added.

He also said the Riau Health Agency has sent help to local health agencies including by sending 10,000 medical masks to Bengkalis.

Haze begins to cause problem in visibility in Riau: BMKG
Antara 28 Aug 16;

Photo document of officers observed haze that covered the start Pinang Kampai Airport, Dumai, Riau. (ANTARA/Aswaddy Hamid)
Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said haze of black smokes from forest and bush fires began to cause problem in visibility in Riau in the past two days.

"Thick and black clouds began to blanket Dumai and Pekanbaru limiting visibility especially in the morning," Slamet Riyadi of the provincial BMKG said here on Sunday.

Slamet said on Sunday visibility is limited to one kilometer in Dumai and 2.1 kilometers in Pekanbaru as against normally more than 5 kilometers in the morning.

Hot spots have been detected in various areas in Riau over the past week disrupting flight schedule.

Pelita Air Service aircraft from Jakarta with destination Dumai was forced to diverted routes on Sunday as black clouds in the sky over the Pinang Kampai airport of Dumai.

The ATR 72-500 aircraft finally landed at the international airport of Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II of Pekanbaru.

"The aircraft was forced to land in Pekanbaru, as it was not smokes block view over the Dumai airport," SSK Airport Duty Officer Bambang Setiawan said.

Flights were still normal from and to International Airport of SKK II as the smoke was not as thick as over Dumai airport.

"Visibility in the morning has been improved reaching 5,000 meters on Sunday from 1,800 meters once in the past week," he said.

Last Thursday, the Police Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) said it had detained 85 forest fire individual suspects in Riau this year.

"In addition, nine companies are being investigated for alleged involvement in forest fires," Bareskrim chief Insp. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto said here .

The suspects are facing a jail term of 15 years and a fine of Rp5 billion if found guilty, the police general said.

Last year, 15 plantation and forestry companies in the list of forest fire suspects were released by police drawing protest from environmental activists.

Police said the case against the 15 companies was dropped as there was not enough evidence found against them.

Haze disrupts flights in Dumai, Riau
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 28 Aug 16;

Flights at Pinang Kampai Airport in Dumai, Riau were disrupted by haze from forest fires in several areas in the province over the weekend.

The head of the airport, Catur Hargowo, said the haze limited visibility to only about 1-kilometer. Until noon on Sunday, the thickness of the haze fluctuated and visibility improved to only 2-km.

“Visibility reached the lowest level today,” Catur told The Jakarta Post over the phone Sunday.

Safe visibility is at least 4.2-km for small airports such as Pinang Kampai. “Our landing instruments are not complete yet, for example, we have no runway lights. That’s why the visibility standard is farther than 1.8-km for a modern airport,” he said.

A Pelita Air flight from Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in Jakarta to Pinang Kampai had to land in Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru, the province’s capital.

“The pilot decided not to land here because of the visibility. The passengers were to continue the journey to Dumai by land,” Catur went on.

Catur said they let the pilots decide themselves. A Trans Nusa flight landed in the morning and departed to Jakarta an hour from arrival.

“The pilot is familiar with Dumai’s air space. He remembers the check points in the airport because he flies here every day. But the Pelita Air pilot was new and rarely flies to Dumai. Each airline and pilot has their own procedure,” Catur said. (evi)

Haze covers parts of Riau
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 27 Aug 16;

Haze covered several areas of Riau province on Saturday morning and reduced visibility following the detection of dozens of hot spots in the province, an official has said.

The worst drop in visibility took place in Dumai, said Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) chief Sugarin citing data from the agency's four observation posts.

"The visibility in Dumai at 7 a.m. local time was only 1,500 meters, in contrast to 9-kilometer visibility yesterday afternoon," he said on Saturday.

Riau's capital city Pekanbaru was also covered in thick haze on Saturday with visibility down to 2.5 kilometers from the forest and land fires in Tapung subdistrict of Kampar regency.

The smog is a result of the forest and land fires currently taking place in five regencies and municipalities in the province. There are 61 hot spots detected in Riau spread in several areas such as Rokan Hilir with 36 hot spots, Siak with 13 hot spots, Bengkalis with nine hot spots and Kampar with one hot spot, Sugarin said.

BMKG personnel and local officials coordinated with Riau Forest and Land Fires Emergency task force to put out the fires in order to prevent the haze getting worse.

Indonesia's annual occurrence of land and forest fires has also caused its northern neighbor Singapore to be blanketed in smoke, triggering yet more complaints from the city-state's residents. Singaporeans lambasted Indonesia for its deteriorating air quality on Friday as winds blew smoke from fires in Riau across the city-state. (rin)

Plantation companies warned not use fire for land clearing
Antara 28 Aug 16;

Palembang (ANTARA News) - The South Sumatra provincial administration threatens to revoke the license of plantation companies if found using fires for land clearing.

Land clearing with fires had been blamed for most big fires in a number of regions in Sumatra including South Sumatra.

Deputy Governor of South Sumatra Ishak Mekki said strict law enforcement is necessary to create greater awareness of potential damage caused by fires to the environment.

"Firm action would be taken by cancelling the license," Ishak said here.

He said plantations companies are not only disallowed using fires but are also responsible for preventing fires in their lands.

Meanwhile South Sumatra police said they are still processing a number of forest fire cases in 2015 and 2016.

South Sumatra police spokesman Sr.Comr R Djarod Padakova said in 2016, there were two new forest fire cases with dossiers already handed over to the prosecution office in addition to carryover cases from 2015.

Police also are busy in socializing the ban on using fires to clear farmlands in district areas as human errors caused around 90 percent of the forest fires in the region, Djarod said.

"Human approaches have succeeded in reducing cases of forest fires this year compared with previous years," he said.

'Outsiders' should focus on Indonesia's efforts to combat forest fires: Minister
Chandni Vatvani, Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said on Sunday (Aug 28) that the country was working non-stop to tackle land and forest fires, and urged “outsiders” to focus on the country’s efforts instead of criticising it.

“We continue to respect the complaints submitted by neighboring countries, but we do not work to tackle the land and forest fires because of the pressure from other countries,” the minister said in a statement.

Dr Siti also said the government was working to fulfill its duty to the people of Indonesia.

“All outsiders should withhold unnecessary comments, but view the efforts that have systematically and seriously been carried out by the government of Indonesia,” she said in the statement.


Dr Siti said her ministry was taking a “multidoors” approach to combatting the fires, including administrative sanctions and civil lawsuits - about 30 companies are currently being subjected to administrative sanctions over last year’s fires and those found guilty will receive a strong warning and have their licenses temporarily revoked. Civil suits against almost 10 companies are also ongoing, she said without the companies.

The minister added that integrated teams on the ground were working to extinguish the fires tirelessly and that the law was being enforced on those offenders who deliberately cleared the land by burning.

“Currently, the Ministry for the Environment and Forestry has enforced a temporary moratorium on forest management permits, palm plantations and management of peatlands. This is one step to evaluate, and at the same time fix the management of natural resources by taking into account environmental factors,” Dr Siti said in the statement.

The results of Indonesia's efforts, Dr Siti said, could be seen from a decline in the extent of smoke and fires this year - satellite observations show a decrease in the number of hotspots from 8,247 points from January to August last year to 2,356 points in the same period this year, a nearly 75 per cent decline according to the statement.

The largest declines in hotspots were seen in the provinces of Riau - from 1,292 in 2015 to 317 in 2016 - and Central Kalimantan - from 1,137 hotspots last year to 56 this year, she added.

However, while Dr Siti said the number of hotspots nationally had been reduced by 70 to 90 per cent, she asked authorities to remain alert as the country entered what she called a “crucial season of land and forest fires” and the start of the dry season.

- CNA/mz

Huge fires hard to put out: Indonesia
Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Aug 16;

Vast swathes of land are burning in western Riau province and prevailing winds may continue blowing the smoke towards Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesia's weather authorities gave the update yesterday along with a warning that the fires would be hard to put out given the dry and hot conditions.

About 30 hot spots were detected in Riau yesterday, up from 17 on Friday and just seven on Thursday.

"Satellite imagery has shown that the distribution of smoke is quite concentrated in the western part of Riau province, indicating the presence of land fires over a wide area," the Indonesian meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency, or BMKG, said in a statement.

"With the winds blowing towards the east, the smoke will potentially continue to spread to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore."

It is "very easy" for land and forest fires to break out in the western part of Sumatra, where Riau province is located, but bringing them under control will be "difficult to very difficult", the statement said.

BMKG Pekanbaru chief Sugarin told The Sunday Times yesterday: "Dry conditions and high temperatures mean that land and forest fires can happen easily and spread quickly, making the blazes uncontrollable."

Besides Riau, other affected provinces include North Sumatra, Jambi, Aceh, West Sumatra, Bengkulu and South Sumatra. The BMKG has urged people to stop "burning activities" and residents affected by the smoke to wear masks and stay healthy.

Satellites belonging to the National Space and Aviation Agency of Indonesia (Lapan) detected 30 hot spots in Riau yesterday morning.

Across the country, 108 hot spots were detected, said Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

He had previously said a combination of dry conditions, sporadic rains and illegal land-clearing by burning in the past week was responsible for the spike.

About 7,200 firefighters have been deployed in Riau, together with seven aircraft for waterbombing and cloud-seeding, he said, adding that about 3,218ha of land in the province had been razed since January.

BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said the government is "going all out" to put out the fires. "September is the peak of the dry season so we will heighten prevention (efforts)," he added.

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Malaysia: Johor urges stern action against haze culprits

The Star 29 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: Johor, which is getting the worst of the haze blown from Sumatra, Indonesia, wants the National Haze Committee to take stern action to put an end to the issue.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the Federal Govern­ment should find ways to resolve the issue that has been recurring for years due to open burning.

He suggested suing those responsible for the opening burning because the pollution not only affected people’s health but caused cross-border problems.

He said that if Indonesia could seize and sink the boats of Malaysian fishermen for encroaching its waters, “then our country should start taking strict action”.

Ayub was speaking to reporters after attending the Johor Basic Sustainability workshop yesterday.

“The haze is not a new issue and action should be taken against the neighbouring country since it forces our people to live with unhealthy air,” he said.

He said the haze had affected parts of Johor three years in a row.

“As we all know, haze can cause coughs, sore eyes, asthma or worse, lung disease,” he said, adding that those affected should seek immediate treatment.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) hit 103 in Pasir Gudang on Saturday, breaching into unhealthy levels.

As at 3pm yesterday, Muar recorded an API of 78; it was 71 in Kota Tinggi and 73 in both Pasir Gudang and Larkin Lama.

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Malaysia: Congok Dam, Mersing's main source of water, has completely dried up

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 28 Aug 16;

MERSING: The Congok Dam, the main water reservoir for the Mersing district, has completely dried up.

A check at the dam, which is managed by SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd revealed shocking results as the dam, usually filled with water from Sungai Mersing, is now dry.

The base of the dam is visible, suggesting that there is hardly any water left to pump the raw water to SAJ's Tenglu Water Treatment Plant.

SAJ has maintained that the plant is still operational but at a very critical level, with a pontoon pump drawing whatever water that is left near the dam's pump station.

SAJ operation general manager for production and distribution, Elias Ismail, said the water pumping operation at the dam may only last for days.

"The dam has dried up due to the drought which has extremely affected Mersing as there has been hardly any rainfall here for the past few years," he said.

He said despite the worsening condition at the dam, the Tenglu Water Treatment Plant will still resume its operation as water in their reserve tanks could still be distributed through its supply networks.

He said SAJ started rationing water supply in Mersing since March, with two days of no water and a third day of 24-hour period of water supply.

The critical level of the Congok dam is 3.50m. The current water level at the dam is 2.50m.

The Tenglu Water Treatment Plant partially supplies treated water to 8,200 accounts or more than 40,000 users in Mersing.

The water distribution is backed up by another SAJ-managed plant, the Sungai Mersing Water Treatment Plant located about 25km away.

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Malaysia: Dealing with rogue elephants

ROY GOH New Straits Times 28 Aug 16;

THE arrival of a herd of seven elephants at the doorsteps of many homes in Telupid early this year was greeted with mixed feelings.

Some were excited, others angry and there were those who feared the elephants which came from a forest reserve 90km away.

Damage was limited to crops, some vehicles, fences and one house but the level of distress depended on who the victim was.

Telupid, located in the centre of Sabah, is a district about 250km east of Kota Kinabalu and 150km west of Sandakan.

The herd, led by two alpha females, appeared in early January and roamed an area that stretched within a 5km radius, for about two weeks.
The last sighting of the herd was on Jan 18.

SMK Telupid principal Rukimin Sulit said he was alerted by teachers staying at the quarters within the school compound about the elephants in the early hours of Jan 6.

It was the first time the elephants were spotted at the school, which was built in 1987. The herd came from a forested area nearby and forced their way through the fence.

“Some of the teachers and their families were initially shocked and scared. But judging by the videos they took, it appears they were more excited.”

Teachers at the school live in a four-storey concrete building on stilts. Despite being near, they could see the elephants from a safe distance above without any worry.

“Dogs barked and this annoyed the elephants. One of them bellowed loudly, like a warning, and the dogs stopped barking.

“The herd came to the school compound every day for one week and the dogs did not bark,” Rukimin said, adding that on most days, the elephants stayed until daybreak.

Crops planted by the teachers in the compound, such as tapioca, sugarcane, bananas and a type of palm-like plant with edible shoots were devoured during the elephants’ nightly visits.

Teacher Jalis Sina said during one of their visits, the younger elephants damaged a plastic water storage tank and tipped it over to drink the water.

“The following day, I prepared a water tank, placed it on the ground and filled it up. The elephants drank from it and did not damage the storage tanks after that.”

Jalis said most people living around Telupid, Kinabatangan, Tawau and Lahad Datu, where elephants were found in the wild, were not afraid of the animals as they kept their distance.

“We don’t disturb them, we don’t make noise when we see them and leave them be.

“Unless there are crops to worry about, especially areas with young oil palm trees, then something needs to be done.”

Housewife Aini Gunsawi, 51, from Kampung Gambaron, said despite seeing elephants near her wooden house on stilts around the same time for the third consecutive year, she was still afraid.

“They are big and they sound scary.

“Three years ago when the elephants first came near my house, my vegetables were destroyed.

“I no longer plant vegetables on the ground and use pots or containers to plant my chillies, brinjals and leafy greens. They were also destroyed.”

During the herd’s recent “visit”, she managed to capture a footage of a young elephant charging (playfully, according to a ranger from the Wildlife Department who saw the clip) towards her house and the words she uttered asserted her fear.

“I called out to the big one and told her ‘nek jangan kacau kami’ because that is what other villagers would do.”

Local communities often refer to elephants as “nenek” or “elder one”, which shows their fear and respect for the animal.

Plantation worker Jimi Kisun said the elephants destroyed more than 5ha of newly planted oil palm trees in Kampung Bauto where he worked last year.

“All our hardwork for months was destroyed overnight. We can start again but something needs to be done.”

The Wildlife Department had assigned a team from its Wildlife Rescue Unit led by Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam to monitor the movement of the elephants.

The team was also tasked to capture and translocate the animals but the opportunity did not come their way.

To assure the locals, state Wildlife Department director William Baya recently engaged the local communities, informing them of efforts to keep the elephants at bay.

He, however, stressed a long-term solution was needed and the answer lay in community-led wildlife squads.

“Such squads can help reduce threats, especially in areas where human-elephant conflict is prevalent. It’s not only Telupid that faces such threats but other districts, too, such as Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu and Tawau.

“With such squads, the threats can be contained temporarily before the Wildlife Rescue Unit arrives.

“This can help reduce property damage and risks.”

A community squad has already been formed in Sukau, Kinabatangan, where members were given special training on how to deal with elephants and control them from causing more damage before help from the Wildlife Rescue Unit arrives.

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Vietnam: Don't eat fish caught off Vietnam's central coast, say health authorities

An Hong Vietnam Express 28 Aug 16;

Catches may still contain poisonous chemicals.

Vietnamese food safety authorities have warned against eating seafood caught off the coast of the four central provinces affected by the environmental disaster caused by the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group.

The Vietnamese government announced on June 30 that the Taiwan-owned steel firm Formosa was responsible for discharging toxic chemicals into the ocean, killing marine life and poisoning fish in four central provinces.

Nearly three month after the announcement, Minister of the Environment Tran Hong Ha said last week that it’s now safe to swim in the affected provinces and that fish farming could resume in most areas.

However, the big question that remains unanswered is whether it is safe to eat fish caught within 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) off the coast of the four provinces.

Thorough research and strict supervision by the Ministry of Health are needed to make sure it is safe to eat fish caught off the central coast, Nguyen Thanh Phong, the director of the ministry's Food Safety Department, has said.

He added that the Health Ministry, supported by a team of experts and scientists, is set to make its final conclusion by early September.

“We need time to make a full assessment which requires enough statistical samples and a larger sample size. We can’t rush this,” Phong said, adding that he hoped the results will confirm the government’s announcement last week that chemicals, including cyanide, have been diluted.

“As the Prime Minister has said, the number one concern is the people’s wellbeing. That’s why we have to wait for a more detailed report before we can answer whether it is now safe to eat the seafood,” Phong continued.

The senior food safety official strongly warned the public to refrain from eating fish in the affected areas until the pollution has been cleaned up.

Even though the government may have managed to mitigate the consequences by bringing down the concentration of harmful chemicals in the sea water to acceptable levels, that doesn’t mean it is already safe to eat fish, Phong said.

He explained that harmful chemicals in the sea water may have fallen, but residue can still be found in the seafood.

At a conference last week, Mai Trong Nha, who led a team of Vietnamese and foreign scientists to study the consequences of the toxic disaster, said that marine life, including sea water and sea-bed sediment, is generally within safety standards for aquaculture farming, fishing and tourism activities.

He also told the conference that the toxic chemicals the steel factory dumped into the sea, including cyanide, phenols and iron hydroxide, have shown signs of waning.

The marine ecosystem, coral reefs, sea grass and other marine resources which were seriously damaged in terms of scale and species has begun to recover.

However, since then the media has reported chemical residue still present in fish caught offshore.

The steel plant, owned by the Formosa Plastics Group, took responsibility for the disaster in June and pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the pollution and compensate those affected.

The mass fish deaths have ravaged local fisheries, disrupted people’s lives and hit tourism in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue.

The government said in a report in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.

An estimated 115 tons of fish washed up ashore along more than 200 kilometers of the central coast in April, the report said.

Formosa Plastics’ $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port.

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