Malaysia sends half a million face masks to haze-hit state, shuts schools

Authorities closed 409 schools in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, on Tuesday due to haze, the state education department said. (AFP)
Updated 10 September 2019

Malaysia sends half a million face masks to haze-hit state, shuts schools

  • Authorities closed 409 schools in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, on Tuesday due to haze
  • Air pollution index reached unhealthy levels on Tuesday

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia sent half a million face masks to the eastern state of Sarawak and closed more than 400 schools there on Tuesday as a haze spread from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia, officials said.
Authorities in Singapore also said air conditions could reach unhealthy levels there over the next 24 hours if the wind kept bringing smoke from Indonesia, and advised anyone feeling unwell to seek medical attention.
Forest fires have raged through parts of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the province of Kalimantan on Borneo in recent weeks, forcing the government to send in thousands of military and police to douse the flames.
Indonesia’s neighbors have regularly complained about smog caused by its forest blazes — often started by farmers trying to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations.
Authorities closed 409 schools in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, on Tuesday due to haze, the state education department said.
Malaysia’s national disaster management agency (NADMA) said it had sent 500,000 face masks to the state, after the air pollution index reached unhealthy levels on Tuesday.
One Sarawak district saw a “very unhealthy” pollution level of 201, while unhealthy readings were seen in five other Malaysian states on the country’s peninsular, the agency said.
Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by Indonesian farmers’ slash-and-burn practices, raising worries about health and the impact on tourism.
Indonesia last week said it had detected haze crossing over from Kalimantan in Borneo to the Malaysian side on the island.
But on Tuesday, its climate agency disputed findings by Malaysia and Singapore that the countries were also seeing smog from fires on Sumatra island.
“As for transboundary haze, there has been none detected from the area of Sumatra toward the Malaysian peninsula,” the climate agency said. It added that signs of forest fires were also spotted in Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, East Timor and Thailand.
Singapore recorded slightly hazy conditions on Tuesday due to persistent fires in Sumatra’s Riau and Jambi provinces, the country’s national environment agency said.
“Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy persons should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion,” the agency said.
“Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” it added.


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.