Paying a heavy price for massive industrialisation, Beijing has issued its first ever pollution “red alert” over the city’s smog. It has led to the Chinese capital going into shutdown in an attempt to protect people from the deadly air.
The radical measure means that cars with odd-numbered license plates must stay off the the road, outdoor construction must stop, and schools must close. The pollution is simply too dangerous.
From 7 a.m. on Tuesday to noon on Thursday, depending on number plate cars will be allowed to drive only on alternate days, and fireworks and outdoor barbecuing will be banned. The government agencies will have to keep 30 percent of their automobiles off the streets.
Health experts say that the heavy smog carries risks for everyone, but especially people with heart disease or lung conditions such as asthma or emphysema.
The most alarming part is that the levels of PM 2.5, a measure of tiny airborne particulates linked to lung cancer, reached 1000 – 40 times what the World Health Organisation considers safe – in some parts of Beijing.
China’s alert system on air pollution gives more weight to forecasts on how long the air pollution will last, and not how severe pollution is at any given time, experts said.
However, residents have questioned why the alert level was only raised now, and not last week, when the city’s pollution was at its worst all year.
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As a result of the decision, many residents were left scrambling to plan for the next morning: how to get to their jobs if they could not drive, what to do with children staying at home, and whether they should even go to work.
Many Chinese cities, especially northern ones, have some of the world’s worst air pollution. It is largely due to industrial coal burning, and some coming out from motor vehicles.
Chinese social media users called the government’s protection measures lacklustre. “I’m already indifferent, it’s all a gas chamber anyway,” said one user.