SINGAPORE: As hazy conditions in Singapore continue to worsen, primary and secondary schools across the island will be closed on Friday, Sep 25, the Education Ministry announced on Thursday (Sep 24).
At a technical media briefing on Thursday evening, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the decision was made as a precaution, as air quality could enter Hazardous levels.
Mr Heng added that due to the late notice, parents who are unable to make alternative care arrangements can continue to send their children to school. Teachers will continue to report for duty, and students will be placed in suitable facilities such as libraries and enclosed spaces, Mr Heng said. He added that school-based student care centres will remain open.
"Given the prediction that we cannot rule out the possibility of haze conditions getting into the hazardous range, MOE is taking the precaution to close all primary and secondary schools": Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. He added that parents who are unable to make alternative care arrangements can still send their children to schools, where they will be placed in enclosed spaces, while teachers will continue to report for duty. #SGhaze http://bit.ly/1Fhy8iVPosted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Thursday, 24 September 2015
MOE will issue press releases should there be any school closures and parents will also be informed by the schools, the ministry added. To avoid confusion, the decision from the previous day on whether to open or shut schools will stay even if there are changes to the air quality.
The Education Minister added that the GCE 'O' level practical examination for Music, originally to be held on Friday, will be rescheduled to Tuesday, Sep 29. More than 100 students are affected and are being notified by schools, while private candidates are being notified by examination boards, he said.
The Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) are also armed with haze management plans. For example, air purifiers will be provided during national examinations so that there will be no disruption should the haze worsen during the tests.
If the haze forecast for the following day indicates that air quality could be at the “hazardous” level, prompting school closures, national exams will be rescheduled. This may mean that exam periods will be extended.
The announcement on the rescheduling of examinations will be made together with any announcement by the education ministry on school closure. School candidates will be informed through their schools, while private candidates will be informed by SEAB.
When asked if there are any alternative plans for the Primary School Leaving Examinations that will be held next week should the haze persists at high levels, Mr Heng said: “We will certainly announce our plans … this is a very fast moving situation but we are prepared”.
Mr Heng also said the Early Childhood Development Agency has decided that activities in childcare centres and kindergartens will be scaled down due to the haze conditions.
"As many parents need care arrangements, all childcare and kindergartens including MOE kindergartens will continue to operate and provide care arrangements for children," said Mr Heng.
In a media statement, MOE said all Junior Colleges, Centralised Institutes, and post-secondary education institutions including universities, polytechnics and ITEs will remain open.
"Classes for these students, as well students in Year 5 and 6 of the Integrated Programme, will continue, as the students in these institutions are older, in accordance with the guidelines from MOH’s haze health advisory," MOE said.
The Education Ministry added that the post-secondary education institutions will continue to monitor the wellbeing of students and staff, and will adopt necessary mitigation measures, such as scaling down or ceasing all outdoor and indoor physical activities.
In a statement to the media, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said lessons would also be suspended on Friday for full-time madrasahs and mosque kindergartens.
"However, the madrasahs and mosque kindergartens will still remain open. This is to enable parents who are unable to make alternative care arrangements to continue to send their children there, to be supervised by teachers," MUIS said.
WORSENING HAZE DUE TO CHANGE IN WIND DIRECTION: DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN
During the technical briefing, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said authorities could not rule out the possibility that air quality in the next 24 hours could enter the Hazardous range.
He said worsening haze conditions were due to a tropical storm in the Western Pacific, somewhere to the east of Philippines, which caused a change in wind direction.
Dr Balakrishnan said the situation is of "special concern" as the denser part of the haze cloud is slightly to the south of Singapore. As winds continue to blow from the south and southwest, Dr Balakrishnan said the denser haze cloud is encroaching into Singapore, leading to a volatile but progressively worsening condition on Thursday.
The 24-hour PSI has been trending upwards since 6am, according to data from NEA. At 7pm on Thursday evening, the 3-hour PSI went past the 300-mark for the first time this year, coming in at 313. At 11pm, the 3-hour PSI was 317 and the 24-hour PSI was 226-279, the highest recorded 24-hour PSI this year.
AUTHORITIES TO FOLLOW UP ON ERRANT COMPANIES IDENTIFIED
Dr Balakrishnan revealed on Thursday that some errant companies have been identified, and the authorities will be following up on this.
"Basically we have identified some companies. NEA has also written to the Indonesian authorities, asking for a list of companies whom the Indonesians' investigations have shown may be implicated in this. And then pursuant to our Transboundary Haze Act, we will be issuing notices in the days to come. So, that's a separate exercise which is in progress," he said.
Dr Balakrishnan also urged Singaporeans to focus on official sources for any data on the haze.
"The key point I want to emphasise is that in fact all websites are using NEA data. And my advice to people would be to go back to the original source and the NEA website contains the hourly raw concentrations of PM2.5. That's useful for someone who's about to say, take a jog, or engage in strenuous exercise or wants to decide on whether he should do it indoors or outside, take a look at the hourly raw concentrations," he said.
"For all other activities, we need to have the 24-hour average because that's the basis in which all health advisories are made. So I think we should just use these two - look at the 24-hour indices, look at the hourly raw concentrations and then make appropriate plans."
NO NATIONAL SHUTDOWN OF WORKPLACES: LIM SWEE SAY
At the briefing, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said there would not be a national shutdown of workplaces. However, he said while business and work activities should carry on as normal as possible, it should not compromise the health and safety of workers.
"Individual employers will have to continue to update their risk assessment and pay particular attention to work which are strenuous and that involves prolonged outdoor work. At the same time, they should pay special attention to workers, especially the elderly, the pregnant women as well as workers with heart and lung conditions," Mr Lim said.
ELDERLY, NEEDY CAN COLLECT N95 MASKS FROM CCs
The People's Association (PA) also announced on Thursday that eligible Singaporeans can collect N95 masks from all 108 Community Centres islandwide from 10am on Friday.
Eligible Singaporeans include:
- All holders of MOH's Community Health Assist Scheme CHAS) Blue card
- All Pioneer Generation Card Holders
- All ComCare clients above 62 years old
- ComCare clients identified as having longer term medical issues, regardless of age
- All Singaporean Citizens who meet the CHAS Blue Card criterion of having less than S$1,100 Household Per-Capita Income
Each eligible recipient will be given two masks, to last for a week, PA said.
ADEQUATE SUPPLY OF MASKS IN PLACE: MTI
The Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Thursday it has plans in place to ensure an adequate supply of masks for bulk purchase by companies with staff engaged in prolonged or strenuous outdoor work. Each company has an allocated quota specific to their needs, it said.
The ministry has activated its stockpile and assured the public it is prepared to meet requests for replenishment of stocks from retailers Dairy Farm Singapore, NTUC FairPrice, and Unity Healthcare.
SOME LIBRARIES TO OPEN EARLIER: NLB
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the National Library Board (NLB) said some libraries across the island would open earlier, at 9am, on Friday (Sep 25) to provide a space for members of public to stay away from the haze.