Non-air-con childcare centres at risk

SINGAPORE - With the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hitting such highs ("Record PSI at 10pm: 321"; Thursday), the Government should step in to order a closure of all non air-conditioned childcare centres when the PSI is at high levels.

It is insufficient to just follow the National Environment Agency advice for "children, the elderly and those with heart or lung diseases to reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor activities".

Childcare centres have an obligation to remain open to cater to working parents regardless of the PSI levels. However, by doing so, they are endangering both the children's and their teachers' health.

Centres that are not air-conditioned can only opt to close the windows and doors when the haze is bad. This is not only futile, it could be worse for the children to be kept in a stale, poorly-ventilated area for a sustained period of time. Moreover, viruses can be more easily spread in an enclosed environment.

Should the centres choose to be socially responsible and close when the PSI crosses into very unhealthy levels, they have to face complaints from parents and risk doing something illegal.

The order should come from the Government, similar to when it ordered centres hit by hand, foot and mouth disease earlier this year to close.

I suggest that the PSI level at 9pm be used to determine if non-air-conditioned childcare centres should be closed the next day. If the reading exceeds 200, the school should automatically be required to close.

Parents can check the PSI at the stipulated time, giving them some time to make alternative arrangements for their children if necessary.

Cynthia Lim (Ms)

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