For the first time ever, China has issued a red alert for pollution in Beijing as the capital continues to choke under the effect of smog. On Tuesday morning, the air in the Chinese capital was flagged as “hazardous” as against being “very unhealthy” the previous day.
Just as PM 2.5 (particulate matter with size equal to or less than 2.5 micron) touched 365 compared to Monday’s 256, authorities imposed a string of restrictions in the city. All schools were ordered to remain closed, outdoor construction was immediately halted and half the private cars owned by the 22 million people of the city stayed off the roads. Factories too saw a number of checks.
The red-alert, which is the highest in the four-tier emergency response system created in 2013, will be in place until 12 pm on Thursday.
According to the US embassy classification, anything beyond 300 is categorised ‘Hazardous’ warranting people to take preventive measures like avoiding outdoor exposure.
Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre has said that heavy smog will linger until Thursday afternoon and disperse only then when a cold front arrives.
State television CCTV reported that Beijing authorities were, for the first time, considering to impose a congestion tax to ease traffic. At present over 30 per cent of the air pollution which comes is from auto-mobile emission.
While the red alert is on, government vehicles on the roads will also see a cut. Apart from the usual odd-even formula of private cars plying on alternate days, 30 per cent of government cars will be banned from the streets on the same odd and even basis.
The restriction on private cars is estimated to push an extra two million passengers onto public transport every day. To battle this, Beijing will add 21,000 to 25,000 buses, including 8,182 clean-energy buses, to the roads, officials said.
On Monday night, when the red alert was issued after battling heavy smog for almost a week, the Beijing Education Commission put out a notice asking all kindergarten, primary and high schools to suspend classes during the red alert period.
“This is the government showing concern for the common people. It’s protecting the people. I believe this measure (issuing a red alert) is really good. People have a way to take precautions against (the smog) and psychologically prepare for it,” said Wu, a 70-year-old retired school teacher.
Beijing air quality suffers every winter because dozens of massive coal fired heaters are used to keep millions of homes warm in the extreme cold. This adds to the already high industrial and vehicular pollution besides burning of agricultural waste in the outskirts.
(With inputs from agencies)