Heavy smog in Beijing forces students to stay home, factories asked to limit output

A woman wearing a protective mask walks in front of the China Central Television building on an extremely polluted morning in Beijing.
A woman wearing a protective mask walks in front of the China Central Television building on an extremely polluted morning in Beijing. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Beijing's worst pollution of the year forced some parents to keep their children home from school as municipal officials limited factory output in efforts to dispel a shroud of smog that covered the Chinese capital for the third day in a row.

Students at middle and primary schools were given the option to study from home, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Tuesday (Dec 1), quoting the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education.

Some schools are instituting indoor exercises dubbed "smog aerobics," according to the report.

The round of heavy air pollution that began last week is the heaviest this year, the Beijing environmental protection bureau said on its official microblog on Tuesday. That was an embarrassment for President Xi Jinping, who is in Paris for United Nations-led talks on a deal to fight climate change.

Near Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, concentrations of PM2.5 - the fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health - stood at 650 micrograms per cubic m as of 8 am, according to the local environmental monitoring centre.

Beijing on Sunday raised its air pollution alert for the first time in more than a year to orange, the second-highest level in its four-tier system. The heavy pollution won't clear until Dec 2, according to the environment bureau.

While the orange alert is in force, the city will ask some factories to suspend or limit production and for construction sites to stop transporting materials and waste, the bureau said.

As for students, the education commission has called a halt to all outdoor activities for schools, kindergartens and junior educational institutions since Sunday, according to a statement on the commission's website.

"With this level of pollution, government should really consider stopping all classes at middle and primary schools," said Mr Ma Jun, the Beijing-based founder and director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Visibility in Beijing has been low since Monday, forcing several provincial highways to shut, according to a separate report by the Beijing Youth Daily. Visibility in 17 city centres and surrounding regions is reported to be lower than 500 m, with some reporting no more than 200 m, according to statements on the Beijing Meteorological Service website.

Air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people a day in China, according to a study by Berkeley Earth, an independent research group funded largely by educational grants, which cited coal burning as the likely principal cause.