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Beijing upgrades smog alert to orange

Publication Date : 22-02-2014

 

Beijing raised its four-tier air pollution alert system to the second-highest level for the first time on Friday, with dense smog forecast to persist over the next three days.

Under the "orange" alert, schools and kindergartens are advised to cancel activities outdoors.

Authorities raised the alert to "orange", second only to "red", a day after they announced a "yellow" alert when the capital's Air Quality Index exceeded 250, indicating serious air pollution.

Beijing authorities have ordered 36 companies to halt production and another 75 to reduce output.

The Air Quality Index measures six airborne pollutants, including PM 2.5 - particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns - a major contributor to the smog.

Index readings at monitoring stations in downtown areas topped 300 at 3pm, more than 10 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.

The Beijing Commission of Transport said the government suspended all earthwork construction at building sites, together with industries related to metallurgy, construction materials and chemicals.

All freight trucks and those carrying construction material are also barred from the roads, to lower exhaust emissions.

People have been urged to take public transportation. If they must use their cars, they have been told to turn off the engines, rather than let them idle for long periods.

Buses and the Beijing Subway have been told to extend services by 30 minutes, with many vehicles being fueled by cleaner energy.

Water has been sprayed on streets to reduce dust, and no outdoor barbecues are allowed in the city, to reduce pollution.

Zeng Feng, from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Monitoring Center, said that warmer weather and increasing humidity were hindering the dispersal of pollutants, adding that the smog may last until Thursday.

Medical experts urged people to avoid outdoor activities as much as possible.

Zhang Shunan, deputy director of the Traditional Chinese Medicine pneumology department at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said smog may cause relapses in patients with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. Others may have coughs and sore throats.

Smog may also result in some people contracting diseases after eight to 10 years, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and even lung cancer, Zhang said.

Wang Guangfa, director of the pneumology department at Peking University's First Hospital, suggested that people avoid opening windows.

Schools in Beijing have started to cancel outdoor activities.

The mother of a third grade student at a primary school in Haidian district, surnamed Xu, said her daughter had attended physical education classes indoors.

An index tracking transaction trends on taobao.com, a major online shopping service provider, shows that sales of anti-PM 2.5 masks increased by 24 per cent in the past seven days.

Taobao.com expects that sales will continue to rise in the coming week.

A search for masks using "PM 2.5" on taobao.com displays 100 pages of various types - domestic and imported - with prices ranging from 1 yuan (16 US cents) to hundreds of yuan.

"We have been busy receiving orders for masks for months," said Xiao Kang, (an alias), a trader on taobao.com who sells masks for about 30 yuan.

"Our masks are popular both in northern and southern regions, because the smog covers many areas," he said.

Zhang Peng, a young mother-to-be, said she has bought many masks.

"No matter what the price is, I want masks to protect my baby and myself from pollution," said Zhang, who lives in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province.

Zheng Jinran and Zhang Yue contributed to this story.

 

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