PETALING JAYA - Hari Raya turned out to be a hazy one nationwide with many areas recording unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.
There has been a 40 per cent increase in patients with haze-related respiratory and skin problems at clinics and hospitals checked.
At 5pm yesterday, the worst hit area was Sibu with a reading of 145, followed by Batu Muda at 132 and Port Klang and Cheras, both at 117.
Other areas with unhealthy readings were Samarahan, Sri Aman, Banting, Petaling Jaya and Putra-jaya.
The poor air quality in Sibu was due to a forest fire that broke out in the Bukit Lima Forest Park.
Visibility in Petaling Jaya dropped to less than one kilometre due to the thick smog while in Subang, it dropped to less than five kilometres.
While several people complained bitterly on social media about how the haze was ruining their health and had restricted their Hari Raya celebrations, others decided to take advantage of the public holiday and set out with their families to the zoo to see the pandas in their air-conditioned enclosures or for picnics.
While the haze is expected to last until September, Natural Resources and Enviroment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel warned Malaysians that they would have to endure the current thick smog for at least another day.
Malaysian Meteorological Depart-ment (MMD) spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the current weak winds, which were blowing at less than 10kph, would not blow the haze away.
"The wind strength has been weak since yesterday (Monday). As a result, the thick haze might stay at least until tomorrow (Wednesday)," he said yesterday.
He added that the situation was made worse by the forecast of little rain until the end of next week.
In peninsula Malaysia, seven hotspots were detected on Monday while in Borneo, nine hotspots were found.
The rapidly increasing number of forest fires on Sumatra also indicates that the haze situation here is unlikely to clear up any time soon.
Indonesia's disaster agency had warned last month that Malaysia and Singapore could be badly hit by haze again after a large number of forest fires in Riau province, which was at the centre of an air pollution crisis last year.
On Monday, there were 133 hotspots detected on the island based on satellite images from the Meteorological Service Singapore website.
In a statement yesterday, Palanivel said there had been 4,408 cases of open burning locally from January until July 28.
Of this, there were 1,436 cases on agricultural land, 897 in forested areas and 1,011 bush fires.
"There have been 818 cases of small open burning incidents, 137 in construction areas, 75 at dumpsites and 34 in industrial areas," he added.
Palanivel said 45 investigation papers were opened and compound notices had been sent to those involved in 315 open burning cases, adding that warning letters were sent for 101 other cases.
Under Section 29(A) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974, those convicted of open burning can be fined up to RM500,000 or sentenced to a jail term of up to five years or both.
They also face a maximum compound of RM2,000 for each offence.