JOHOR BAHRU: More than 300 schools and kindergartens in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor have been ordered to close on Sunday (Sep 15) after the haze reached “very unhealthy” levels in three districts- Pontian, Muar and Tangkak.
The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Tangkak, the worst-hit district, hit 208 at 5pm.
An API reading of between 0 and 50 is good; 51 to 100 (moderate); 101 to 200 (unhealthy); 201 to 300 (very unhealthy); and 301 and above is considered hazardous.
While tens of thousands of students will be affected by the closures, school heads, teachers and other staff members will report for duty as usual, said Johor Education, Human Resources, Science and Technology Committee chairman Aminolhuda Hassan.
He was speaking at an event where 50,000 face masks were distributed to schools in Tangkak and Muar.
READ: Stronger ASEAN cooperation needed to tackle haze, says Masagos as Singapore offers help to Indonesia
Malaysia closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak earlier this week, after the smoke built up to unhealthy levels.
Illegal fires to clear land for farming are raging on Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands, with firefighters battling round the clock through charred forests. Water-bombing helicopters have also been deployed to douse the flames.
Malaysia and Singapore have offered Indonesia assistance to fight the forest fires.
In Singapore, haze levels also hit unhealthy levels on Saturday as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) went beyond the 100 mark at 4pm. It was the first time since August 2016 that the 24-hour PSI reading has reached the unhealthy level.
According to Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA), the haze worsened on Saturday afternoon due to the convergence of winds over the nearby region, leading to more smoke haze blowing from Sumatra.
It said 450 hotspots were detected mostly in Indonesia’s Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra provinces, a “sharp increase” from the 156 hotspots on Friday.