Smog in northern China shuts highways, causes cancelled flights

BEIJING • Heavy smog in northern China yesterday caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled and highways to shut, disrupting the first day of the New Year holiday.

Large parts of the country's north were hit by hazardous smog in mid-December, leading the authorities to order hundreds of factories to close and to restrict motorists to cut emissions.

The latest bout of air pollution began last Friday and is expected to persist until Thursday, although it will ease slightly today, the last day of the New Year holiday.

Luminous signs on top of skyscrapers seemed to float in the fog, while some tourists wore respiratory masks.

In the capital Beijing, 24 flights were cancelled at the main airport and all buses from there to neighbouring cities suspended, the airport said in a statement on its official microblog.

Average concentrations of small particles known as PM2.5 were higher than 500 micrograms per cu m in Beijing - 50 times higher than World Health Organisation recommendations.

A combination photo of the same buildings in Beijing on a polluted New Year's Day (top) and on a clear day on Dec 23 last year (above). The latest bout of air pollution is expected to persist until Thursday.
A combination photo of the same buildings in Beijing on a polluted New Year's Day (top) and on a clear day on Dec 23 last year (above). The latest bout of air pollution is expected to persist until Thursday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The exasperation of people in Beijing yesterday overwhelmed social networks. "Why didn't they trigger the red alert? Because it would be a bad omen for the first day of the year?" wrote a surfer on the Weibo microblogging platform.

"Pollution now has its hukou (residence permit) in Beijing. It's made. It will never leave again," said another netizen.

Most of China's greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of coal for electricity and heating, which spikes when demand peaks in winter and is the main cause of smog.

In Tianjin, Beijing's next-door metropolis, the smog was not as serious but visibility was much worse, with more than 200 flights cancelled at the airport and conditions not expected to improve in the near term, the city government said.

Some bus routes and highways in Tianjin were also closed due to the smog, the government added.

In Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province that surrounds most of Beijing, about two dozen flights were cancelled and eight flights diverted to other airports because of the smog, the People's Daily said on its website.

A total of 24 Chinese cities have issued red alerts for the current round of pollution, which mandate measures such as limiting car usage and closing factories, while 21 have issued orange alerts, including Beijing and Tianjin.

China began a "war on pollution" in 2014 amid concerns that its heavy industrial past was tarnishing its global reputation and holding back its development, but it has struggled to tackle the problem.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Smog in northern China shuts highways, causes cancelled flights'. Print Edition | Subscribe