Bangkok schools shut as Thai PM blames public for toxic smog

UNTV News   •   January 22, 2020   •   880

A Thai Buddhist monk wears a face mask to guard against poor air quality during morning alms in Bangkok, Thailand, 16 January 2020. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

By Lobsang DS Subirana

Bangkok – Hundreds of schools closed Wednesday in Thailand’s capital after an order from authorities, following air pollution levels in the city that have exceeded hazardous levels for weeks and have even seen the prime minister blame the public for the issue.

The persistence of toxic smog that blankets Bangkok led the city’s metropolitan administration to order 437 schools closed, a recurrent annual event in a city that has suffered from the authorities’ inaction to tackle this major public health concern.

“In Bangkok, 437 schools will be closed for one day starting [Wednesday] to avoid the danger of harmful particles exceeding healthy standards and to help reduce the number of cars on the road that have to pick up and drop off students during rush hour,” Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang wrote Tuesday in a statement posted to his Facebook page.

The city’s levels of PM2.5 particles, the finest and most harmful kind, have regularly exceeded its own 50-microgram per cubic meter “safe” threshold – set at double that of the World Health Organization’s at 25 micrograms per cubic meter – in the first weeks of the year.

Monitoring agency Air Visual counted 10 days of the last two weeks in which the air quality exceeded local thresholds – and WHO thresholds on all 14 days, including a Monday high of 79 micrograms per cubic meter.

On all those days, Bangkok consistently ranked among the world’s top 10 most polluted cities, registering an “Unhealthy” Air Quality Index (AQI) value above 151 on at least half of them, in some cases entering the 201 threshold of “Very Unhealthy.”

To tackle these problems, Aswin said he had ordered 68 health centers and 50 district offices to provide masks for the general public and encourage that they be worn while performing outdoor activities.

Outdoor activities are what monitoring agencies least recommend when air pollution levels exceed 151 on the AQI, with Air Visual insisting people are likely to experience an “increased likelihood of adverse effects and aggravation to the heart and lungs among general public.”

Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha proceeded to blame the public for the situation following a Tuesday cabinet meeting in Narathiwat province.

“The public is responsible and a culprit in the PM2.5 problem,” Prayuth told the media, but added that he was willing to take measures to attempt to tackle the matter. “The government will consider all directives and actions, such as banning private vehicles and encourage people to use only public transportation.” EFE-EPA


Philippines to lift travel ban on 10 countries starting September 6

UNTV News   •   September 4, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to lift the current travel restrictions on travelers from 10 countries starting September 6, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced in a statement on Saturday.

These countries are namely:  India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Nonetheless, international travelers coming from the said countries shall comply with the appropriate entry, testing and quarantine protocols, depending on the country’s approved “listing,” Roque said.

He added that the IATF has adopted the “Yellow” and “Red” classifications, in addition to the “Green List” countries/jurisdictions/territories.

Roque said this is based on the countries’ respective incidence rates and case counts as primary criteria, and testing data as secondary criteria.  The incidence rate is the cumulative new cases over the past 28 days per 100,000 population while case counts are cumulative new cases over the past 28 days.

The government first imposed the travel restrictions on India in April then later expanded to include more countries to stem the spread of Delta variant, the highly transmissible strain of COVID-19.


PH Embassy, ready to assist in repatriation of Filipinos amid Delta variant surge in Thailand

Marje Pelayo   •   July 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Ambassador Millicent Cruz-Paredes assured that Filipinos in Thailand are coping with the fresh surge of COVID-19 cases there.

During the Laging Handa Press Briefing on Friday (July 16), Paredes said the Embassy is ready to assist Filipinos in returning to the Philippines in case a travel ban is imposed against their host country.

“Nakahanda na po kami kung anoman ang magiging challenges and again ang magiging resulta nito. Alam na po ng ating Filipino community dito, gayundin ng mga airlines [dahil’ sila din ang nagmomonitor ng flow of passengers,” she said.

Meanwhile, Paredes said there were 30 Filipinos who have contracted COVID-19 in Thailand.

Of the said number, 27 already recovered, two were active cases and one succumbed to the disease just this month.

The envoy said the Embassy is already coordinating with the victim’s family.

Paredes explained that, at present, the country specifically its capital Bangkok is experiencing a third wave of infection.

“Ang pangatlong wave, it happened around March this year. Iyon po ay nakitaan ng pagpasok na ng mga variants. Nagsimula po ‘yan sa 2 high-end bars dito sa Bangkok,” she said.

“Dito po sa Bangkok, nakikitaan nila na ang around 69% [ng cases] ay Delta variant na,” she added.

Currently, Paredes said the Thai government is looking into possible cross-vaccination using available brands like AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

“Thailand PM Prayut Chan-o-cha already said na hindi siya hahadlang at mag-o-object sa mga proposals na magkaroon ng cross vaccination that would involve AstraZeneca, Pfizer,” Paredes said.

Smog in Metro Manila due to ‘human activities’ pollution, not Taal Volcano — Phivolcs

Aileen Cerrudo   •   June 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Tuesday (June 29) clarified that the smog experienced in Metro Manila is the effect of pollution from human activities and not from Taal Volcano.

Phivolcs observed high levels of volcanic sulfur dioxide or SO2 gas emissions and steam-rich plumes in the past days. SO2  emission averaged 14,326 tonnes per day as of June 28.

Several residents in Metro Manila observed haze in their area which caused concern especially with the volcanic gas emission in Taal Volcano.

“The haze which is being experienced by some residents of Metro Manila is smog caused by pollution and human activity. The haze is not from Taal Volcano,” the agency said.

Meanwhile, residents near Taal Volcano were advised to take precautions including staying indoors and wearing masks to prevent exposure to SO2.

According to Phivolcs, the Taal region continues to undergo very slow extension since 2020. These parameters indicate overall that magmatic unrest continues to occur at shallow depths beneath the edifice. Alert Level 2 (Increased Unrest) is currently maintained over Taal Volcano. AAC


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