KUALA LUMPUR, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Persistent haze and poor air quality have forced Malaysian authorities to close 1,484 schools serving over 1 million students on Wednesday.
In a statement, the Malaysian Education Ministry said schools had been closed along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia's states of Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Perak the Federal Territory of Putrajaya and capital Kuala Lumpur as well as Sarawak state on North Borneo.
The ministry had previously set an Air Pollution Index (API) reading of 200 and above as the benchmark for schools to be closed.
According to the country's air quality rating, an API reading of zero to 50 is "good," 51 to 100 "moderate," 101 to 200 "unhealthy," 201 to 300 "very unhealthy," and 301 and above is "hazardous."
As of 5 p.m. local time, 35 areas across the country recorded "unhealthy" readings and 10 posted "very unhealthy" levels of haze despite an afternoon shower, with the worst hit being Peninsular Malaysia's west coast and Sarawak state.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday that action would be taken against any Malaysian company operating estates in Indonesia found to be involved in open burning.
"We should make them responsible for the fires in their properties, even if it is outside Malaysia," he said at the launching of his government's Foreign Policy Framework of the New Malaysia at his office in Putrajaya.
Previously, Indonesia had said that four out of 30 companies whose palm plantations were sealed off due to fires were Malaysian-owned.
Mahathir explained that Malaysia has taken a few measures in tackling the effect of the haze, such as cloud seeding, advising people to stay indoors and closing schools, but there is also a need to find new ways to reduce the haze.