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Tuesday, December 8, 2015, 19:20

China reinforces quick response measures for smog

By Agencies

China reinforces quick response measures for smog
People wearing masks to protect themselves from pollutants walk along a street on a polluted day in Beijing, Dec 8, 2015. (AP Photo / Andy Wong)

BEIJING - At least two million private cars were taken off the road in the Chinese capital as Beijing rolled out its emergency response plan following its first-ever red alert for smog.

A gray haze hung heavy over Beijing on Tuesday, after it announced the most severe smog warning under its four-tier system. The alert remains in force from 7 am Tuesday until noon on Thursday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has ordered reinforced measures against the smog while lauding the prompt response in the hazy capital.

The ministry on Tuesday sent two teams to central China's Henan Province to inspect measures to cope with the severe pollution.

It had previously dispatched 10 inspection teams to regions known for heavy pollution, mainly around Beijing, to ensure emergency plans were in place. The teams also monitored known polluters, such as those that burn coal and high-emission vehicles.

Schools closed and rush-hour roads were much quieter than normal as Beijing invoked its first-ever red alert for smog Tuesday, closing many factories and imposing restrictions to keep half the city's vehicles off the roads.

The alert in effect through Thursday — the most serious warning on a four-tier system adopted in 2013 — means authorities have forecast three consecutive days of severe smog.

Under the alert, schools were advised to voluntarily close unless they had good air filtration systems. However, Beijing's education commission later issued a separate order for all schools to close through Thursday.

Readings of PM2.5 particles climbed above 300 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city Tuesday and were expected to continue rising before the air begins to improve with the arrival of a cold front on Thursday. The World Health Organization designates the safe level for the tiny, poisonous particles at 25.

Environment Minister Chen Jining praised the timely manner in which the alert was issued.

"Environment authorities must closely follow the situation, improve monitoring and forecasting, and guide local governments' emergency response plans," he said at a press conference.

Chen said the warning levels should be adjusted according to the real-time pollution conditions.

He also asked local authorities to be transparent and to keep the public up-to-date.

Along with limiting cars to driving every other day depending on the last number of their license plate, a raft of other restrictions will seek to reduce the amount of dust and other particulate matter in the city of 22.5 million people. Officials said extra subway trains and buses would be added to handle the additional strain on public transport.

A factory operated by a unit of CNR Group, one of China's biggest producers of railway cars, suspended paint spraying and other work, according to a city government statement.

City inspectors set up 650 video cameras to watch construction sites and confirm they obey dust-control rules, the statement said.

Travel companies saw an uptick in demand as some residents left Beijing on "smog holidays."

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