Thailand prepares masks for ASEAN meeting due to air pollution

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is preparing face masks for an upcoming regional finance minister and central bank summit after pollution shot air quality to alarming levels, an official said on Tuesday.

The air quality index (AQI) in Chiang Rai, where Thailand will host the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ meeting this week, reached levels considered unhealthy at 240 to 250, government data shows.

Masks have been prepared, Nadhavudh Dhamasiri, a senior Finance Ministry official, told Reuters.

Some 300 officials are expected for the meeting, with some already arriving. There are no plans to change the meeting venue or schedules, officials said.

“The dust situation is improving and has not affected the meeting schedules,” Nadhavudh added.

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha traveled north to inspect the situation and said after meeting on the pollution that he had ordered agencies to alleviate the problem within seven days, starting with 1,900 spots across nine provinces, including Chiang Rai.

The government has already given out nearly 2 million masks to residents in the area, the Prime Minister Prayuth said.

“The smog problem in nine northern provinces is due to agriculture burning in forests, which happens every year,” Sate Sampattagul, Head of the Climate Change Data Center at Chiang Mai University, told Reuters.

The smog is worse this year because of a drought and more illegal burning, he added.

(This story was refiled to correct spelling in second paragraph to Chiang)

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Orathai Siring and Satawasin Staporncharnchai; writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; editing by Christian Schmollinger