KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 — Medical experts have warned that the annual haze which normally occurs between June and October may return if neighbouring countries and Malaysia failed to control open burning.
Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar told English daily The Star that the haze will cause enhanced respiratory problems to Covid-19 positive risk groups such as the children and the elderly.
He said people should continue to mask up whether or not haze occurs this year as Covid-19 spreads through droplets and is not an airborne virus.
“There has been no evidence to suggest that the haze situation will increase the spread of Covid-19, so technically it’s a very remote possibility.
“But because the virus spreads through droplets, using a face mask will lessen the possibility of infection.
“I would advise people to continue using a face mask, before, during and after the haze,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Environment Department air division director Mashitah Darus said Asean countries must make sure that haze does not repeat this year.
She said polluted air can increase the risk of Covid-19 infection to the general public.
“In this season, the southern part of the South-East Asian region that covers major Indonesian islands such as Sumatra and Kalimantan and Peninsular Malaysia will experience a dry season with surface temperatures above normal levels and rainfall less than other seasons.
“For this reason, the control of haze-causing forest fires should be monitored more closely for the dry season,” Mashitah told The Star.
The current state of air quality based on the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading on June 1, showed that almost all air quality in the country was at a moderate level.
The Environment Department has issued a strong warning to all landowners to monitor their land, especially in vulnerable and often burned areas such as peatlands, farms, construction sites, landfills including illegal dumping sites, forests, shrubs and industrial areas to prevent invasion by irresponsible parties resulting in open burning.
Under Section 29 (A) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974, those convicted of an open burning offence may be subject to a fine of up to RM500,000 or imprisonment of up to five years or both.
On July 1, Reuters reported that the Central Kalimantan province in Indonesia declared a state of emergency until September 28 after identifying over 700 fires.