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Tuesday, December 20, 2016, 22:20

Smog puts China's pollution battle on red alert

By Xinhua
Smog puts China's pollution battle on red alert
Women wearing protection masks walk on a street in Beijing as the capital of China is shrouded by heavy smog on Dec 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING – Fresh air has become a luxury for many Chinese.

A large part of northern China has been wrapped in heavy smog since last weekend, 23 cities have activated red alerts , the highest in a four-tier warning system for severe weather.

Kindergartens and primary schools in Beijing, Tianjin, Xi'an and Zhengzhou have been suspended, with high schools also suspended in some places.

The Beijing environmental monitoring center said Tuesday that the worst pollution is yet to come, lasting from Tuesday evening to Wednesday. The smog will disperse from Wednesday evening to Thursday, when a northern wind is expected.

LIFE DISRUPTED

At least nine expressways were closed in Beijing on Tuesday morning, according to the municipal traffic management bureau.

A total of 273 flights were canceled as of 2 pm Tuesday, Beijing Capital International Airport said on its official Weibo account.

Kindergartens and primary schools in Beijing, Tianjin , Xi'an and Zhengzhou have been suspended, with high schools also suspended in some places.

Beijing-based magazine "DUKU" on Monday sent an apology letter to subscribers, saying that their last edition of 2016 would not reach readers until after the New Year due to a temporary closure of the printing factory under the red alert.

Many ready-to-eat products are absent from shelves in convenience stores in Beijing because delivery trucks are banned in the city proper.

According to a circular released by Langfang City, which neighbors Beijing, all restaurants and breakfast stalls in county seats without cooking fume processing equipment are ordered to halt operations from Dec 17 to 31. It also requires suspension of all construction projects in the city from December until mid-March.

The air has forced many to escape.

READ MORE: Smog may be classified a 'disaster'

A tourist surnamed Li flew to southern China's Hainan province with her two-year-old granddaughter to flee the smoggy air in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province.

"We feel much better here than in Lanzhou," she said.

The airport in Haikou, capital of Hainan, has seen more than 50,000 inbound and outbound passengers every day since November. On Sunday, two days after Beijing's red alert was put in place, the airport welcomed 32,155 inbound passengers, the highest since the National Day holiday in October, according to data from the airport.

NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL

Liu Lijuan, a fruit and vegetable vendor in Zhaoxian County, Hebei Province, has had a hard time this winter. Most of her customers are migrant workers at nearby factories and construction sites, but they have not earned much due to work shut-downs amid the smog.

"I cannot make one yuan (US$0.14) selling a box of apples," she grumbled. "I used to earn 80 to 100 yuan a day, but now I cannot sell 100 yuan worth of produce."

Hebei, one of China's major steel and coal mining provinces, has shut down thousands of factories, construction sites, and even fried-food stalls under red alerts. Still, the PM2.5 reading in many regions has exceeded 500 micrograms per cubic meter. In its capital city of Shijiazhuang, the reading passed 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter of air at 1 pm Monday.

"Our company has been ordered to halt production since Nov 20, and 160 of our workers have been temporarily laid off," said Tian Pengjie, staff at a gypsum factory in the provincial capital.

Read more: Pollution among concerns addressed

China has planned to cut steel capacity by between 100 and 150 million tonnes, as well as coal capacity by 500 million tonnes by 2020.

This year, it had retired 45 million tonnes of steel and 250 million tonnes of coal production capacity by the end of October, meeting its full-year goals ahead of schedule.

But problems have also emerged, especially in some companies seeking to add capacity as an unexpected demand-supply gap pushes up prices of steel and coal products.

Smog puts China's pollution battle on red alert
A woman puts on a mask for protection against air pollution while walking on a pedestrian overhead bridge in Beijing as the capital of China is shrouded by heavy smog , Dec 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Even under the red alerts, companies have also failed to suspend production as required.

Xu Ganlu, deputy governor of Henan Province, said power consumption volume of the nearly 3,000 companies that were supposed to suspend production had not been reduced, indicating they did not halt their production at all.

Another 900 companies ordered to limit their production did not make any reductions, said Xu.

READ MORE: Beijing bans high-emission vehicles

The Henan provincial government on Monday evening held an emergency meeting, launching a 72-hour campaign to tackle heavy air pollution. Environmental authorities will organize inspections and investigations, and penalize those who fail to follow the emergency response against pollution.

Tang Jinjiang, an environmental official of Xinxiang city, Henan, said the key to winning the war against smog lies in the green transformation of the industrial structure.

"Governments at various levels should stick to the instructions of the central leadership for green development and implement them in every aspect of life and production," he said.

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