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December 19, 2015

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North China on alert for another round of choking air pollution

RESIDENTS across a large part of north China were yesterday warned to prepare for a wave of choking smog arriving over the weekend. The worst of it is expected in Beijing, prompting the capital to issue its second red alert.

The National Meteorological Center said the smog would stretch from Xi’an, across part of central China, through Beijing and up into Shenyang and Harbin in the northeast.

The pollution would begin rolling in from this morning and last until Tuesday, with visibility in the worst affected areas likely to fall to under a kilometer, it said.

The air quality index would probably exceed 500 in Beijing and parts of Hebei Province, which surrounds the capital, it added.

Under government guidelines, residents are advised to stay indoors at levels higher than 300.

The Beijing city government issued its first red alert last week following criticism that previous bouts of smog had failed to trigger the highest warning level.

Under the red alert, half of the city’s vehicles are taken off the road with an odd-even licence plate system enforced. Schools are advised to close and outdoor construction is banned.

“I’m very concerned about the pollution, I think the government needs to put more effort into solving this,” said Cheng Xianke, a 34-year-old Beijing software developer.

The Beijing environment bureau said the red alert would last from 7am today to midnight on Tuesday.

According to Xinhua news agency the smog will be worse than last week. It blamed the over-reliance in much of northern China on coal for its energy needs and the heavy industries surrounding cities.

“From a long-term perspective, the improvement in air quality cannot just rely on temporary production suspensions or limitations for certain companies,” it said.

“Fundamentally it needs to come from an adjustment in industry and energy structure, as cutting emissions from the source is the permanent solution.”

Beijing is not the only city to have a colored alert system, and the restrictions rolled out in the most severe cases are broadly similar.

Hebei’s environment protection bureau issued an orange alert, the second-highest, yesterday.

Schools will not close and there will be no vehicle restrictions but the bureau recommends no outdoor activities and that people use public transport and leave their cars at home.

However, Baoding, a city in the province, has already begun enforcing rules even stricter than a red alert, an official at the city’s environment protection bureau said.

These included a December-long enforcement of odd-even licence plate restrictions and a total ban on outdoor construction.

After decades of unbridled economic growth, China’s leadership has vowed to crack down on severe levels of air, water and soil pollution, including the heavy smog that often blankets major cities.

In Shanghai earlier this week, schools banned outdoor activities and authorities put limits on work at construction sites and factories.

Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining vowed this month to punish agencies and officials for any failure to implement pollution emergency response plans quickly.


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