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Govt ‘prepared for national emergencies’

SINGAPORE — Two weeks before Singapore was hit by its worst haze episode, the inter-agency Haze Task Force had met on May 29 to review its plans and to prepare for the dry season.

Govt ‘prepared for national emergencies’

Daily detected hotspot count for Sumatra

SINGAPORE — Two weeks before Singapore was hit by its worst haze episode, the inter-agency Haze Task Force had met on May 29 to review its plans and to prepare for the dry season.

The Government said this yesterday, as it sought to assure Members of Parliament (MPs) that plans to respond to national emergencies are in place and had functioned as intended, even though it acknowledged that some areas could be improved.

The task force, which was formed in 1994 and comprises 23 agencies, is activated yearly ahead of the dry season to review its procedures and responses and to coordinate the different agencies’ ground actions. “We were gearing up for the onset of the haze season,” said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

“In fact, this is somewhat earlier than the usual haze season in other years. But the situation deteriorated sharply during a very short period.”

As such, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had set up the Inter-Ministerial Committee on June 20, to “oversee overall national efforts” against haze as “an added step and new step … calibrated appropriately to deal with the haze problem”. “I want to assure Singaporeans that our structures to respond to national emergencies are in place and are functioning as intended,” said Dr Ng, the Chairman of the Haze Inter-ministerial Committee.

He, however, acknowledged that the authorities could improve on their efforts in communication, guidance and education during the haze episode. “During emergencies, perceived or real lack of information or misinformation can often create greater problems than the threat itself,” said Dr Ng.

Responding to Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam’s question about the situation where masks could not be stocked quickly enough in retail outlets, Dr Ng stressed that there was, in fact, no shortage of masks and that the Government’s stockpile of nine million masks were originally meant for healthcare workers in preparation for the onslaught of any infectious diseases.

Dr Ng added that the masks have been restocked, while the Health Ministry “will be looking in terms of packaging and see how they can roll it out in terms of distributorship chain”.

He said: “We were able to react fairly quickly, including using the SAF to move the masks from the warehouses to the constituencies and at the same time, retailers like NTUC FairPrice activating their supply chain to get the masks straight from the warehouse to their retail outlets, including the other retailers ... We can do better but we didn’t do that badly.”

When asked by MP Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) if the Government stands ready to distribute masks to needy families again should the haze return, Dr Ng said the Government “has always stepped up to help its people when they need it”. WOO SIAN BOON

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