Work-from-home measures will be implemented in Bangkok if the hazardous pollution levels caused by ultra-fine particles do not improve soon, said Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda on Saturday.
As of Saturday, the levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Bangkok and many provinces were considered to be severe.
More than 50 areas in Bangkok, such as Bang Khun Tian and Din Daeng districts, tipped into the orange zone on Saturday, with PM2.5 levels hovering between 51 and 78 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m³), said the Pollution Control Department (PCD) director-general Pinsak Suraswadi.
This increase in fine dust particles was the result of a sudden weather change in the capital, compounded by smoke from forest hotspots blown in from neighbouring countries.
The PCD also warned city residents they should monitor dust levels, especially between March 15-18, when the problem may worsen due to wind blowing fine dust particles from areas outside the capital, added Mr Pinsak.
Meanwhile, Gen Anupong said people in Bangkok might be asked to work from home, as earlier suggested by City Hall, if the PM2.5 problem does not ease soon. The measure will also keep many vehicles off the roads, which would help reduce pollution.
The minister suggested the policy should be put in place, starting with people in the private sector, and expanding to government offices if the situation does not improve.
Praphan Phongkiatkul, president of the Indoor Air Quality Association, also suggested people wear face masks as basic protection.
Gen Anupong insisted strict measures were needed to bring down the fine dust pollution caused by slash-and-burn practices in the forest and farming areas, as well as industrial activities and construction work in the city and provinces. Also, a ban on certain types of vehicles entering roads at specified times might be considered.
The minister earlier accompanied Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on a helicopter tour over forest areas near the border where slash-and-burn activities were commonplace. On Thursday, he urged farmers to stop burning crops and help tackle dust pollution.
Bush fires, especially those in Kanchanaburi, have worsened the dust pollution which is also driving tourists away, according to Athapol Charoenshunsa, acting chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation.
He said that at least 30% of visitors have stayed away from key tourist attractions in the province since the dust problem occurred.