Upsurge in asthma cases as KL gets hit

MALAYSIA - Public relations consultant Claire Khoo feels frustrated as the haze worsens her six-month-old son's bronchiolitis, which causes asthmatic symptoms.

"I feel like we are so far down the value chain for the authorities to want to do anything about our plight," said the 33-year-old mother. A doctor had told her to use an inhaler to relieve her son's symptoms, she said.

There has been an upsurge in asthma cases in the past week, as thick haze envelops the nation's capital, forcing schools to cancel classes on Monday. Besides Kuala Lumpur, schools in Malacca, Selangor, Putrajaya and parts of Johor and Pahang also closed.

Except for Klang, all schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor will reopen on Tuesday.

A change in wind direction is blowing the thick smoke north towards Kuala Lumpur and Selangor from Johor and Singapore.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in Port Klang and Banting, both in Selangor, crossed into "hazardous" and "very unhealthy" territory respectively at 5pm on Monday.

The overall haze situation across Malaysia also worsened, with 42 per cent of the country recording "unhealthy" levels at 5pm, up from 36 per cent on Monday morning.

The haze situation in Muar improved considerably on Monday, however, with the API reading falling to 148 from a record 746 on Sunday morning. But the Johor town and nearby Ledang town remain under an emergency status declared on Sunday.

Port Dickson had the highest API reading of 335 on Monday, but this dropped to 193 at 5pm.

API readings of between 200 and 300 are deemed "very unhealthy", while those above 300 are considered "hazardous".

Malaysia Airlines has warned of flight interruptions in the next few days, as it monitors air quality over airports in Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kuala Lumpur and Sabah.

With haze levels remaining in the unhealthy range, a mad scramble for face masks has also led to shortages, as manufacturers have been unable to cope with demand.

Mr Lim Hai Leong told The Straits Times that his company in Penang can only deliver a maximum of 100,000 masks a week. Strong demand has also pushed up prices, he said.

A box of 50 masks now costs about RM8 (S$3.18) instead of the usual RM5.

lestkong@sph.com.sg


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