Medical subsidies for haze-related ailments

SINGAPORE - Expect the haze to last for weeks or even longer, warned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

But he gave the assurance that the Government will help subsidise treatment for haze-related ailments needed by children, teenagers and seniors.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a new high of 371 at 1pm yesterday.

Speaking at a media conference, Mr Lee said that vulnerable groups of Singaporeans - those aged 18 and below, as well as the elderly aged 65 and above - who are down with respiratory problems and conjunctivitis due to the haze need pay only $10 when they see a general practitioner.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will pay the balance of the bill.

Other people eligible for this scheme include Community Health Assist Scheme cardholders.

"My priority is to protect the health and safety of Singaporeans, especially vulnerable groups such as the young and the elderly, and those with heart or lung diseases," said Mr Lee.

He added that MOH's doctors, polyclinics and hospitals "are on alert and ready to treat patients".

"If you need any financial help with your medical expenses, we will make sure it is available," said Mr Lee.

But he noted that the haze could "easily last for several weeks, and quite possibly last longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra, which is in September or October".

On the probability of a stop-work order being issued, Mr Lee said it would "depend on what people are doing, what their exposure is (and) what our assessment of the situation is".

"We will have to calibrate our response as we go along. I can foresee as the haze gets more and more dense, we will take a gradually escalating series of events," he said, adding that the Government could ask people to work for shorter periods outdoors or to wear masks.

To address the shortage of masks in the market, he said that "MOH is on top of this".

When asked if the actual PSI might be higher than the figure posted on the National Environment Agency's website, Mr Lee said: "We don't play those kinds of games in Singapore."

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, added at the media conference that the Government is "committed to total transparency". He said that it was important that data is analysed and interpreted appropriately.

Mr Lee also called for all Singaporeans to "remain calm and look out for one another".

He added that "we must not let the haze overwhelm us. There are things that we can do to protect ourselves, get on with our lives, and keep Singapore going". But there would be consequences if Singapore-linked companies were found to be responsible for contributing to the haze, said Mr Lee.

There was speculation online that a Temasek Holdings-linked company, Cargill, was involved in fires in Indonesia that caused the haze. But a Cargill spokesman told My Paper yesterday morning: "Cargill has a strict no-burn policy and we can confirm that there are no hot spots or fires on our plantations in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan."

He added that the United States commodities firm works with contractors for land clearing.

"This is performed only mechanically and the entire process is overseen by our own employees," he said.

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