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Beijing sees first red alert over smog

By Zheng Jinran | China Daily | Updated: 2015-12-08 07:46

Capital issues landmark warning as bad air also threatens other cities in N. China

Beijing's environmental watchdog issued on Monday for the first time its highest-level air pollution alert, with the capital facing a second wave of smog this winter.

The smog also threatens a large area of northern China with at least nine other cities, including Tianjin and eight cities in Hebei province.

The unprecedented red alert will be effective from 7 am on Tuesday until 12 am on Thursday.

It imposes the toughest restrictions on activities that may contribute to the pollution worsening, including a ban on the use of half of the city's cars-nearly 2.5 million vehicles a day.

The heavily polluted cluster of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei will experience windless weather that could keep pollutants accumulated near ground level. Air pollution levels may remain hazardous until Wednesday, the municipal air quality monitoring station said.

A researcher at the China Research Academy of Environmental Science, an environmental think tank, said Beijing's red alert may be followed by governments in neighboring cities when necessary and a joint effort by all environmental authorities across the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area to control pollution.

Beijing was already under an orange alert - second to red - on Monday. Forecasters say fresh winds will not arrive until Wednesday to change the weather conditions and disperse the pollutants.

But there is little room for optimism, as more smog may be on the way, which could affect Beijing from Dec 14 to 16, according to the National Meteorological Station.

Under the red alert, vehicles are only allowed on the roads based on odd or even license plate numbers, and the government will cut its use of vehicles by 30 percent.

On Monday, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Bureau said governments in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei had inspected 1,112 enterprises and work sites, and found problems at 45 of them.

Public education institutions from kindergartens to high schools will be closed during the red alert.

Inspections will continue during the three-day red alert and a daily news release will be issued, officials said.

Chai Fahe, deputy director of the research academy under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said if Beijing faces up to the current situation realistically, it will encourage other cities to follow suit and not hide their problems.

In Heibei province, the cities engulfed by the latest smog wave include Shijiazhuang, Langfang, Baoding, Xingtai, Hengshui, Handan, Dingzhou and Xinji.

Residents of Langfang are being allowed to use public transportation for free when smog affects the city.

In Handan, authorities said their focus will be on restricting coal-burning and industrial discharges, which is expected to result in a 15 percent cut in emissions.

Throughout the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, major monitoring targets include power plants, steel and metal works, and coking and cement factories, environmental officials said.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection warned that parts of Shanxi and Shandong provinces will be heavily affected.

Beijing experienced its first serious smog this winter from Nov 29 to Dec 2, when an orange alert was issued, even when readings of some hazardous airborne particles rose to 940 at one time. A reading of 75 is rated as normal in China. Widespread public complaints were leveled at the government for not raising the alert level to red.

Wang Yanfei contributed to this story.


Emergency measures in capital

Cars are restricted from the roads on alternate days based on odd and even license plate numbers until noon on Thursday, with the exception of electric vehicles.

Heavy goods vehicles are barred from the roads and the number of government vehicles used for public services will be cut by 30 percent.

The subway and bus services will extend operating hours and residents are encouraged to use these services.

Major companies in polluting industries must restrict or suspend production. Activities at all construction sites are banned.

Enterprises are encouraged to adopt flexible working schedules for their staff members. Schools and kindergartens will be closed.

Source: Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau

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