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Haze Disrupts a Rich Nation Used to Clockwork

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In a country that prides itself on providing high quality of life and efficiency, the thick blanket of haze that has descended upon Singapore in the past week has become a major disruption to those residing in the wealthy Southeast Asian nation.

The Pollutant Standard Index, a measure of air quality, surged to a record high of 401 on Friday, a level that's deemed "hazardous" by Singapore authorities.

(Read More: Singapore Air Pollution Reaches All-Time High)

Pharmacies and department stores have been swamped by residents scrambling to purchase respiratory face masks and air purifiers that are reportedly sold out in most places.

Local hospitals have also seen a rise in patients with haze-related conditions such as such as eye irritation and chest pain, according to local media reports, with more workers taking sick leave as well.

Schools, which are the heart of the city state's highly-educated population, have been forced to cancel outdoor activities for children and reduce physical indoor activities.

While the haze in Singapore is an annual phenomenon caused by Indonesian crop burning, this year it has come earlier than usual and is much worse than normal. Levels seen on Friday were almost double those during Southeast Asia's prolonged haze crisis in 1997, when the PSI reached 226.

There is growing frustration among residents about the government's handling of the smog, which is expected to persist for days or even weeks.

(Read More: Face Masks, Anyone? Singapore Struggles With Haze)

"I booked a flight to Bali to escape the haze, " said Andrew K, a 31-year-old American working in the country, who is planning work trips in other cities in the coming weeks. "What's the point in being here with the pollution like this?"

According to data from global travel search site Skyscanner, there has been a 22 percent increase in outbound flight searches this week, compared to the previous week, with Bali, Bangkok and Hong Kong the top three searched destinations.

On Thursday, Singapore and Indonesian officials held emergency talks to discuss how to extinguish fires on farms and plantations on the Sumatra Island. Indonesia dispatched two helicopters early Friday with cloud-seeding equipment in a bid to eliminate the fires, the AFP reported.

"They are sending these 2 little tiny planes, to put out all these fires. They are obviously not taking this seriously. Is that the best they can do?" said a 26-year-old Singapore permanent resident, who declined to be named.

"The PSI has hit over 400, and the government hasn't put in a work stop order? That is just ridiculous, he added. "We are breathing poisoned air. Something has to be done about this."

Many Singaporeans have also taken to Twitter to voice their concerns with the haze, using the hashtag #mustbethehaze.

(Read More: Choking on Humor – Singapore Pokes Fun at Haze)

"Singapore is small, and barely visible on the world map. Now (it's) got haze," tweeted Sg SchoolProblems.

By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani

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