Govt should be more aggressive in its response to the haze "crisis"

By Sin Wei Xiang

I welcome the slew of measures unveiled by the Government to tackle the haze (Jun 21). These measures introduced during the press conference held on Jun 20 include: hourly updates of the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings, daily updates of the following day’s air quality outlook and health advisories, and subsidized medical attention for haze-related ailments at selected general practitioner clinics and Government polyclinics. Nevertheless, I feel that the Government’s response thus far has been too conservative.

At the time of writing, the PSI has surged to a new record high of 400 at 11 am on Jun 21, unprecedented in almost 50 years since Singapore’s independence. I understand that the PSI has a scale of 0 to 400. With the PSI overshooting its upper limit of detection, the Government’s justification for a “calibrated response” involving a “gradually escalating series of steps” is tenuous.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his press conference, has termed the current haze situation a “crisis”. However, apart from calling on Singaporeans to “remain calm and look out for one another”, there has been no official announcements of stop-work orders, or to close schools, or to temporarily suspend co-curricular activities (CCAs), physical fitness training, and even military training if necessary, from the relevant Ministries of Manpower, Education, and Defence. This state of affairs is not commensurate with the definition of a “crisis”. The Government has emphasized that there is no tipping point to issue stop-work orders and the like. Yet, if the PSI tipping the scales at the hazardous level of 400 is not sufficient to warrant an “escalated” response, then what is the threshold?

I agree with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan that “in planning an appropriate response, we cannot be reacting reflexively without thinking or considering or analyzing the implications”. Nonetheless, I feel that the Government has been too cautious in its approach so far. There are several tangible actions that our Government can undertake. For example, instead of replenishing the pharmacies from its stockpile of about 9 million masks, more direct distribution of masks via other channels (such as through community centres, or direct mailing to each and every household, akin to dengue prevention kits) could be considered, to make these more accessible to the people, especially to needy families, low-income elderly, and those without air-conditioned homes.

I urge the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee to introduce more mitigative measures and provide more proactive guidance.

Thank you.

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All opinions expressed by the writer is solely his and does not represent the stance of The Online Citizen.

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