Northern China expects clear skies after days of smog

A school in central Henan province has come under fire for making students take their exams in an open field on Monday.
A school in central Henan province has come under fire for making students take their exams in an open field on Monday.PHOTO: CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Weatherman forecasts rain and snow; red and orange alerts will be lifted from today

SHANGHAI • Choking smog that engulfed vast swathes of northern China for days is expected to disperse today with the arrival of a cold front.

The weather observatory has forecast that starting from 8pm yesterday, a cold front from the north would bring rain and snow that would help clear the skies for smog-hit regions.

Beijing and its neighbouring provinces in northern China have been shrouded in severe smog since last Friday. As much as one-seventh of the country's land mass has been affected by its worst bout of smog this year, reported China News Service.

Since the weekend, 24 cities, including Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang, have been on red alert, the highest on a four-tier warning scale. More than 50 others are on orange alerts, the second-highest level. The alerts will be lifted from today, according to local media.

Hundreds of flights have either been cancelled or delayed since last Friday in the densely populated cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Jinan and Qingdao.

In Beijing, at least nine expressways have been closed, disrupting the delivery of fresh food supplies. Prices are expected to rise in the coming days.

China began a "war on pollution" in 2014 amid concern that its heavy industrial past was tarnishing its global reputation and holding back its future development. However, it has struggled to reverse the damage done by decades of breakneck economic growth, much of it based on the coal-burning power sector.

State media yesterday again singled out steelmakers for blame, saying that the rising price of steel has resulted in plants increasing production to net higher profits.

"Emissions from the boost in production were a likely contributor to the severe smog in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region," reported China Daily, quoting two officials.

Mr Wang Guoqing, director of the Lange Steel Information Centre, an independent consultancy in Beijing, said profits for Chinese steel companies have grown by 310 per cent in the first 10 months this year compared with the same period last year.

Lawyers are suing the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and Hebei province for their perceived failure to fulfil responsibilities in battling the smog.

In Shijiazhuang, the capital of the worst-hit Hebei province that encircles Beijing, concentrations of hazardous tiny particles known as PM2.5 passed 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre on Monday. That was 100 times the level deemed permissible World Health Organisation.

Schools were still open even when the city was on red alert with air pollution levels at record highs.

"We already don't know how long this smog will last, so why aren't classes being stopped?" a Shijiazhuang resident posted on China's Twitter-like Weibo microblogging service yesterday.

"The students are wearing masks every day and attending class in a daze, the windows are sealed shut and they don't dare to ventilate and visibility is at just 20 metres."

A school in neighbouring Henan province in central China drew criticism online after local newspapers carried images of students taking exams outdoors.

"We thought that since we had already organised it, why not just finish the whole process," Mr Feng Jisheng, the principal of the middle school in Linzhou city, said. He has since been suspended from his job.

In Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, teachers made use of technology such as the free messaging app, WeChat, and live streaming apps to conduct lessons.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2016, with the headline 'Northern China expects clear skies after days of smog'. Print Edition | Subscribe