Tuesday, December 8, 2015 1:00 pm
Schools in China’s capital city, Beijing, were closed on Tuesday as authorities issued the first-ever smog red alert, advising residents to stay indoors and children not to go to school until Thursday lunchtime.
The new alert issued by the city’s emergency management headquarters represented the highest-level warning issued for the first time since a four-colour scale – red, orange, yellow, blue – was introduced in 2013.
Beijing education authorities ordered kindergartens, primary and high schools to suspend classes as a familiar pea soup haze engulfed the streets and rendered more distant skyscrapers invisible.
Residents were advised to stay indoors as much as possible from 7 a.m. Tuesday to 12 noon Thursday in an online notice by the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.
The alert was upgraded to red on Monday evening -Red reflects a forecast of three days of PM2.5 – airborne particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller – levels above 200 micrograms per cubic meter.
The US embassy’s air quality index showed PM2.5 levels of 365 micrograms per cubic meter at 5 am, sliding down to 250 at 9 a.m. as roads emptied.
The World Health Organisation recommended that safe maximum is 25.
Beijing has suffered more serious smog lasting more than three days in the past, but it was not forecast and so did not trigger the red alert.
Emergency measures include restricting road traffic, except electric vehicles, using an odd and even licence plate number system pioneered before the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Some industrial plants and construction sites were told to pause operations, similarly fireworks and open-air barbecues were also banned.
Beijing made global headlines during the December Paris climate change talks when its air quality went off most scales with a PM2.5 reading of 678 near Tiananmen Square.
According medical experts PM2.5 pollution is fine enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and is associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and asthma.
A report by an independent research group, Berkeley Earth, estimates around 4,000 deaths daily from air pollution in China- with coal burning a key contributor.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre said that the smog was expected to dissipate when a cold front arrived on Thursday afternoon.