China pollution

Beijing issues red alert as 'worst smog of the year' headed for northern China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 December, 2015, 12:55am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 2:59pm

Beijing issued its second ever “red alert” for smog yesterday morning, closing schools and ordering half of all private cars off the road from Saturday until Tuesday.

Weather authorities warned that the capital city would be shrouded in the worst smog this year in the next few days.

It will be Beijing’s third period of prolonged heavy pollution in less than a month.

But the Beijing Meteorological Bureau caused some confusion when it issued the red alert – the highest in the four-tier system – on Friday morning while the skies were still clear above the capital.

Wang Bin, an official with the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said the smog would start to descend on the city on Saturday and reach severe levels in the afternoon as southerly winds moved in and brought pollution. Wang said the early pollution warning was aimed at alerting the public so they could take precautions as soon as possible.

READ MORE: Beijing smog: The warning system is there and authorities must use it, for everyone’s sake

Some residents complained about the car ban, saying the public was being punished for the government’s failure to rein in pollution.

“Is this ‘red alert’ thing becoming the new normal? Will the car ban solve the smog problem? Will I get a refund for the taxes and fees I’ve paid for using the car?” one Beijing resident said on his microblog account.

Another said he would ignore the car ban even if it meant getting hit with a 100-yuan (HK$119) fine.

Others said their plans had been disrupted.One resident said she had to cancel the two-day trip she had booked to the Beijing suburbs because she would not be able to drive back into the city tomorrow under the car ban. 

Today Art Museum, a private museum in Beijing, said it would postpone an event scheduled for Sunday until next weekend due to the red alert.

READ MORE: Protection, Beijing style: face masks outsell condoms as smog gets settled in Chinese capital

Despite the alerts, Wang said the city’s air pollution had improved significantly this year, with concentrations of PM2.5 pollutants – those most harmful to human health – dropping by 21.8 per cent in the first 10 months to 69.7 micrograms per cubic metre. 

That is still nearly seven times the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe level. 

The National Meteorological Centre said on Thursday that parts of northern China would be engulfed from Saturday in the worst smog to hit the country this year.

The forecaster said the smog would persist until Tuesday and would be worse than the conditions in Beijing between December 6 and 9, when the capital issued its top red alert for the first time.

Visibility in Beijing and neighbouring regions will be down to less than 1km and in some places concentrations of PM2.5 particles will exceed 500 micrograms per cubic metre.

Beijing has been labouring under severe smog since the end of last month. It endured a particularly heavy five-day stretch from November 27. 

The smog returned after a brief respite, which led to authorities issuing the red alert and shutting schools and bringing in traffic controls.

Additional reporting by Reuters