Help for those who fall ill from haze

The Government will provide monetary assistance to Singaporeans who need help with their medical expenses should they fall ill from the haze, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on June 20.

At a press conference, he revealed that the Health Ministry (MOH) will implement a special scheme where those who suffer from respiratory problems or conjunctivitis because of the haze can see their general practitioners, pay $10, and MOH will settle the rest of the bill.

This applies to young Singaporeans aged 18 and below, elderly Singaporeans aged 65 and above, Community Health Assist Scheme card holders, PA and Medical Fee Exemption Card holders.

And from June 20, the Government will also hold a daily press briefing to update Singaporeans on the haze situation and recommend protective measures for the day ahead.

At a press conference on the night of June 19 Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the Manpower Ministry may even issue a stop-work order if the haze situation continues at hazardous levels. The problem in Singapore officially reached crisis levels as the air pollution index entered "hazardous" territory on June 19 - hitting a historical high of 321 that night. But at 1pm on June 20, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) went even higher to 371.

Air becomes "hazardous" when the index passes 300.

And in a development that could have implications for companies with investments in Indonesia, Singapore is planning to publish satellite pictures to link specific hot spots to firms.

Dr Balakrishnan also said Singapore has urged Indonesia to take immediate action and that the National Environment Agency will be sending a delegation to Indonesia to meet officials there.

The haze forced many organisations to take swift action to protect its people.

The Singapore Armed Forces has stopped all field training until further notice, while NTUC FairPrice has issued face masks to its staff at petrol stations.

Singapore Environment Council chief Jose Raymond revealed that he would be sending a petition on behalf of Singaporeans to the Indonesian Embassy as soon as possible to "register our displeasure and unhappiness over the irresponsible behaviour" of businesses that are contributing to this haze. "We urge all our friends, supporters and members of the public to support us as we try and push the Indonesian government to act, on behalf of our people."

In a separate interview with BBC News on June 19, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singaporeans are "very frustrated, angry and distressed"

about the haze. Earlier this week, both he and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam urged Jakarta to name the errant firms responsible for the haze.

Dr Balakrishnan added that Singapore companies with investments in Indonesia would also be punished if they were found guilty.

Mr Shanmugam said the haze crisis is beyond Singapore's control and there are limits to what the Government can do about the problem. He was responding to criticism from the public that the Government was not doing enough about the haze.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian Forestry Ministry official has said the government planned to use "cloud seeding" that would unleash torrents of rain and hopefully extinguish the fires. The Singapore Government has offered technical assistance to Indonesia, expressed its "deep distress" at what is happening and has also raised the issue internationally.

"Despite these efforts, the haze problem recurs, nevertheless," said Mr Shanmugam as he urged critics to offer their own suggestions rather than take advantage of the occasion to attack the Government and the PAP.