As the city splutters, a storm brews over 'outdated' index and alerts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, 12:00am

Parents and principals are calling for new warning systems and rules for days with very high air pollution after outdoor activities were cancelled at schools across the city yesterday.

As the general air pollution index hit severe levels at all roadside stations and at general stations in all but one district, schools moved physical education classes and sports matches indoors, cancelled school trips and banned outdoor play.

But three kindergartens in Kwun Tong, where the API hit 413 at 10am yesterday, decided to continue with outdoor play and exercise, while one secondary school in Causeway Bay held sport in a 'covered area' in the hope it would give protection.

The Education Bureau issued a bulletin to radio and TV stations early yesterday advising schools to cancel or postpone PE lessons, sports days and swimming galas and arrange for all students to reduce physical exertion and outdoor activities 'in the unlikely event' that the air pollution index reached the range of 201 to 500.

The Hong Kong Schools Sports Federation, which organises inter-school sports contests for government and aided schools, cancelled all its outdoor competitions for the first time yesterday because of poor air.

'Six football matches involving 12 secondary schools and an interschool netball tournament involving nine schools were cancelled,' a spokesman said.

Across the English Schools Foundation, six primary schools and three secondary schools moved physical education classes and sports activities indoors and ESF Educational Services tennis lessons were cancelled.

Kowloon Junior delayed the start of an overnight school camp for 130 children in Sai Kung, Bradbury School cancelled a trip to the Pak Fuk Road Safety Town in North Point for 60 pupils and Glenealy School cancelled a trip to Lantau for 60 pupils.

But Hong Kong Christian Service Kwun Tong Nursery School held 30-minute outdoor exercise sessions for children on the rooftop as usual, although children were told to rest every 10 minutes.

Chau Shuk-yin, principal of St Philip Lutheran Church Kindergarten, said parents were worried about the effect the poor air would have on their children. 'We opened all the windows today to have better ventilation,' he said.

Tang Shiu Kin Victoria Government Secondary School in Causeway Bay held PE lessons in a covered area of the playground and allowed an inter-class football match and cheerleader competition to go ahead.

'The students were excited about the game and if this one had not gone ahead they might not have been able to complete the competition,' said assistant principal Chan Pui-man. 'We took the activities to the covered area because it is not so exposed.'

Yuen Pong-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said the Education Bureau should take the initiative to inform schools instead of just disseminating information through the media.

'Today is very special as the pollution is really bad,' he said. 'Fewer schools would have been at a loss over what to do, if the government had contacted the principals through fax, sms or other means to give advice.'

Leung Tin-ho, president of the Federation of Parent Teacher Associations in Central and Western District, said: 'The government should set up a clear system similar to that for rainstorms or typhoons.'

An Education Bureau spokeswoman said district officers had faxed warnings to schools about the API guidance during the school day yesterday and sent a further reminder in the late afternoon about continuing high readings.