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Firms, clinics prepare for worsening haze

3-hour PSI hits new high of 207 while 24-hour PSI creeps up to 132-148

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As the smog clouding Singapore thickens, led by the slash-and-burn agricultural activities in Indonesia, local businesses have activated precautionary measures, while more patients seek treatment for respiratory conditions.

Singapore

AS the smog clouding Singapore thickens, led by the slash-and-burn agricultural activities in Indonesia, local businesses have activated precautionary measures, while more patients seek treatment for respiratory conditions.

At 11pm on Thursday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit a new high of 207, while the 24-hour PSI reading crept up to between 132 and 148. The readings had crossed over into the "unhealthy" range of between 101 and 200 earlier in the day.

NEA said in its advisory that the hazy conditions here were exacerbated by smoke blown from Sumatra by the prevailing south or southwesterly winds. It said the haze is expected to persist on Friday, as the prevailing winds are forecast to blow in from the south-southeast or south.

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"The number of hotspots detected in Sumatra increased to 328 today (Sept 10) from 140 yesterday. Haze was observed in central and southern Sumatra. Some haze has spread to the sea areas east of Sumatra and south of Singapore," the agency said, adding that Singapore has registered its "deep concern" to Indonesia and called for urgent action to be undertaken. Singapore has also offered to assist Indonesia's efforts to fight the ongoing forest fires.

Back home, some medical groups expect to see more patients seeking treatment for conditions triggered by the deteriorating hazy conditions.

Parkway Shenton medical director Koh Hau Tek said Shenton Medical Group is seeing a 15 per cent rise in the number of cases with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) and infections at its clinics. Dr Koh noted "those affected seem to be from all ages", especially those with underlying respiratory conditions like asthma.

Raffles Medical Group's (RMG) deputy medical director Michael Lee said the group has seen "a spike of 10-20 per cent in the number of patients for the past week". Besides causing the onset of URTI and eye and throat irritation, the haze has also aggravated patients' pre-existing medical conditions - namely asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema, Dr Lee said.

On the business front, firms are gearing up for the expected yearly routine of countering the haze.

Food caterer Neo Group, for example, said it monitors the PSI levels, has a ready supply of surgical masks and will also stock up on NR95 masks. To encourage its drivers to drink more water, the company has issued them 1.9-litre water carriers and prepares cooling herbal tea for staff on a regular basis during hazy weather.

Others like local lenders OCBC and UOB have issued advisories to employees and begun distributing masks.

Patrick Chew, OCBC's head of operational risk management, said it has pre-issued N95 respiratory masks to bank branches and the various offices for easy access. Should conditions worsen, he said external activities that are non-critical will be scaled back.

Workers at HSL Constructor Pte Ltd carry out the standard practice of wearing masks at sites even without the haze, said CEO Charles Quek. He added that, from past experience, his workers avoid intense activities like excavation works when the PSI hits dangerous levels.

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