Dust storm envelops swathe of northern China, dragging air quality down

A dust storm envelopes a swathe of northern China, dragging down air quality and visibility and prompting warnings for children and old people to stay indoors.
A dust storm in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 4, 2017.
A dust storm in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 4, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS
A combination picture shows the skyline of Beijing's central business area on a sunny day (left) on Dec 22, 2016, and during a dust storm (right) on May 4, 2017.
A combination picture shows the skyline of Beijing's central business area on a sunny day (left) on Dec 22, 2016, and during a dust storm (right) on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
A paramilitary police officer stands guard at Tiananmen Square as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
A paramilitary police officer stands guard at Tiananmen Square as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
The Great Hall of the People is seen as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
The Great Hall of the People is seen as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
People wear face masks as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
People wear face masks as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
A street cleaner wears a face mask as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
A street cleaner wears a face mask as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
People wear face masks as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
People wear face masks as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
Buildings are seen through a heavy sandstorm in Beijing, China, on May 4, 2017.
Buildings are seen through a heavy sandstorm in Beijing, China, on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
A visitor at Tiananmen Square covers the nose and mouth of another one as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
A visitor at Tiananmen Square covers the nose and mouth of another one as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
A man wearing a mask is seen at Tiananmen Square as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
A man wearing a mask is seen at Tiananmen Square as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
A visitor wearing a mask at Tiananmen Square as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017.
A visitor wearing a mask at Tiananmen Square as a dust storm hits Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - A dust storm enveloped a swathe of northern China on Thursday (May 4) dragging down air quality and visibility and prompting warnings for children and old people to stay indoors.

Spring is northern China's dust storm season, when winds whip across the vast Gobi Desert picking up fine sand and dust particles and dumping them along a belt of heavily populated land further south.

The official People's Daily said the worst of the storm would be concentrated on a remote area along the Mongolian border, but that Beijing and locations as far away as the remote north-east of China would be affected for at least 24 hours.

Official data from the Beijing government showed average readings of small breathable particles known as PM 2.5, a major component of China's air quality index, had risen to 630 micrograms per cubic metre in parts of the city by Thursday morning.

The World Health Organisation recommends concentrations of just 10 micrograms.

State television said old people and children should stay indoors to avoid the worst effects.

The dust storm underlines the environmental challenge China faces, added to existing concerns about choking smog from coal powered power plants and factories that also periodically covers much of northern China.

The government has spent billions of dollars on projects to rein in the spread of deserts, planting trees and trying to protect what plant cover remains in marginal areas.