On Monday, March 30, forest fires burning in the northwest have caused air pollution levels to spike dangerously. The concentration of extremely fine dust particles in the air, known as PM2.5, has increased to around 1000 micrograms per cubic meter near the city of Chang Mai.
As of Sunday, March 29, there were still 624 fires not yet under control in Chiang Mai, followed by 430 in Mae Hong Son and 276 in Nan. The government has issued air quality red alerts for the provinces of Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, and Chiang Mai.
Thailand's Pollution Control Department has warned that due to a prevailing "closed weather" system, the situation is likely to persist over the coming days.
Authorities fear the high concentrations of PM2.5 that damage the lungs of those exposed may render the population more vulnerable to severe complications from the coronavirus (COVID-19), which has spread to the region.
A concentration of PM2.5 fine dust above 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air is considered unsafe by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Individuals in affected areas are advised to monitor the situation, watch for updates and health advisories issued by PCD, limit outdoor activities until the situation normalizes, or wear N95 rated masks as a protection. Children and those with chronic respiratory illnesses should exercise increased caution. Individuals are advised to seek medical attention if experiencing breathing difficulties or other health concerns.