Relief from smog expected over F1 weekend

THE smog choking Singapore is expected to persist these two days before it eases in time for the Formula One (F1) Singapore Grand Prix weekend as the winds change direction, officials on Tuesday said at a joint briefing where they shared their contingency plans should the haze thicken.

The tropical storm in the South China Sea had shifted the winds to blow from south or south-west and blown the Sumatran haze to Singapore, contributing to the unhealthy air quality, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Marina Bay Singapore
Marina Bay Singapore

The agency forecasts prevailing winds on Wednesday and Thursday to blow from the south-east or south, before turning south-east on Friday – the start of F1 – which could provide some relief. Further improvement of the situation is expected on Saturday and Sunday when the winds are forecast to blow from the east as the typhoon goes onshore, said NEA, adding that hazy conditions are expected to return next week as the winds are forecast to blow again from the south-east.

Organiser Singapore GP on Tuesday said that based on the current Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels, there are no plans to amend the published racing and entertainment programme.

From Sept 6 to 3pm on Tuesday, the highest three-hour PSI reading of 249 was recorded on Monday at 9pm, while the one-hour fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the main pollutant in haze – concentrations hit a record 341 microgram per cubic metre of air on the same day at 8pm.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said there was a 7 to 8 per cent increase in polyclinic visits for respiratory conditions on Monday, compared to the past three Mondays before the September school holidays which began on Sept 7.

To help needy Singaporeans seeking treatment for haze-related conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, MOH said it will reactivate the Haze Subsidy Scheme – available at more than 450 Public Health Preparedness Clinics and polyclinics – on Wednesday.

Under the scheme, pioneers will pay no more than S$5, public assistance card holders will be fully subsidised, while other eligible Singaporeans will pay no more than S$10.

Those eligible are: children aged 18 and below, the elderly aged 65 and above, and Singaporeans on assistance schemes. Singaporeans who earn S$1,800 a month and below, will also qualify.

In schools, outdoor activities will be scaled down accordingly, said the Ministry of Education (MOE), adding that should the PSI reading enter the hazardous range of more than 300, it will consider shutting schools the next day, based on the 6pm PSI forecast. All schools have air purifiers and sufficient enclosed spaces to cater to all students, it said.

The Ministry of Manpower, together with the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress, has also issued a tripartite advisory to assist employers in preparing and implementing haze-related measures including flexible work and leave arrangements. Within the community, the People’s Association will distribute 30,000 WeCare packs comprising N95 masks, vitamin C tablets and instant noodles to vulnerable families.

Speaking to the media after the briefing, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the government is focused on three key objectives: to protect the population, to work with the Indonesians to put out the fire and identify the culprits, and to send an unequivocal signal to all companies involved that the Singapore authorities “will not hesitate to take the full action under the law”.

So far, no one has been prosecuted under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act passed last year.

“Over the next few days we have to be psychologically prepared that things can fluctuate. We have to take sensible, rational precautions. The plans are in place, the stockpiles are in place. If everybody cooperates and works on a whole-of-Singapore basis, we’ll get through this. I don’t expect this episode to be as bad as what we went through in 2013 so in a sense, we’ll all be psychologically prepared. Singapore should get through this relatively well, just as we did in 2013.”

In 2013, the PSI had peaked at a hazardous level of 401