BEIJING • For the fourth weekend in a row, hundreds of millions of Chinese are being advised to avoid outdoor activities as the country's north grapples with a lingering smog crisis.
Thirty-one cities maintain red alerts, the highest of a four-tier warning system. Orange alerts and yellow alerts are still in place in 30 other cities, reported China News Service.
Air quality is forecast to improve only tomorrow, when the arrival of a cold front brings snow and rain to many parts of northern China.
Snow fell in Beijing on Thursday, prompting the city's meteorological bureau to issue warnings - not once but thrice - that the snow was "very dirty". It urged residents to stay indoors.
In a piece headlined "Bitter banter about smog turns into anger, frustration", the influential Global Times newspaper reported on Thursday that public opinion in China has been "choked with depression, fear and anger" and that the heavy smog has been corroding the government's credibility. It said that economic losses are meagre compared with torrential waves of complaints by disgruntled city dwellers.
It noted that the public sentiment has changed noticeably during the latest round of smog.
"Having experienced repeated hits of the smog, a lot of people know it's not a laughing matter and wonder if there is a cure to this problem or if they will have to live with it for the rest of their lives," the state-run newspaper reported.
A fictional video that went viral on Wednesday portrays future Beijing residents as people who have grown long nose hair to adapt.
"If you don't change the smog, the smog will change you," says the video, which has been viewed more than 10 million times and liked more than 10,000 times on Weibo as of Wednesday.
Starting yesterday, air purification systems were installed in some of the city's schools and kindergartens as part of a pilot project to protect children from air pollution.
Beijing issued a five-day red alert for smog on Dec 16. Since then, the capital and most of northern China have been hit by recurrent smog.
The municipal education authority said that children are the future of families and the nation, and their health not only concerns their parents but is also a top priority of the education authorities, reported China Daily.
Apart from pictures of smog-covered cities on social media, talk of fleeing the heavily polluted cities is getting louder.
A separate post that went viral showed pictures of a high-speed train covered in brownish dirt after travelling through smog-hit regions, from Xuzhou in the eastern Jiangsu province to Beijing. In response, the railway authorities say they are giving the high-speed trains a daily scrub-down instead of one every two days.
Experts say the smog will profoundly change China in many ways. In a commentary published on caixin.com, Professor Wang Dingding of Peking University said people will move to smaller cities first, but if conditions continue to deteriorate, middle- and high-income groups will seek to emigrate.
On Dec 22, the Beijing government published a letter in the Beijing Daily to thank local residents for their cooperation during a period of severe smog.
The letter infuriated rather than appeased netizens, with many asking why the government was not apologising.