KUALA LUMPUR: Thousands of schools were shuttered across Malaysia and Indonesia, affecting at least 1.7 million pupils, officials said, as toxic haze from rampant forest fires sent air quality plummeting.
Nearly 2,500 schools were ordered to shut their doors in Malaysia – including nearly 300 in the smog-hit capital Kuala Lumpur – over soaring health concerns sparked by toxic haze from out-of-control blazes in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands.
Indonesia said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra would also be shut Thursday, with 800 closed in one district alone, while about 1,300 were shut in its Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.
The closures affected at least 1.7 million students in Malaysia. It was not clear how many pupils were forced to stay home in neighbouring Indonesia.
Jakarta is deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle the blazes, mostly started by illegal fires set to clear land for plantations.
The fires belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year’s are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.
Thursday’s school shutdown marked the first mass closure in Kuala Lumpur as air quality deteriorated to “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the capital’s skyline shrouded by dense smog.