Some Beijingers see red over highest smog alert

A visitor to the smog-shrouded Temple of Heaven park in Beijing taking the weather station's advice to heart and wearing a protective mask yesterday.
A visitor to the smog-shrouded Temple of Heaven park in Beijing taking the weather station's advice to heart and wearing a protective mask yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China's capital Beijing is bracing itself for four days of choking smog, but residents said it has been less severe than forecast, with some asking why the government issued its highest air pollution alert.

The government last Friday warned residents across a large part of the country's north to prepare for a wave of severe smog arriving over the weekend, the worst of which would hit Beijing. That prompted the second "red alert" in a month for the capital city.

A red alert is triggered when the government believes air quality will surpass a level of 200 on an index that measures various pollutants for at least three days. The US government deems a level of more than 200 "very unhealthy".

But yesterday morning, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre was showing an air quality reading of 104.

"Today, I have to work. And where is the smog?" posted one Beijing resident on Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent.

"The smog is not so bad. Why do they have driving restrictions?" said another Weibo user in the capital.

The Beijing city government issued its first "red alert" last week following criticism that previous bouts of smog had failed to trigger the highest warning level.

A red alert means around half the city's vehicles are removed from the roads, with an odd-even licence plate system enforced. It is also recommended that schools close, and outdoor building work stops.

The red alert was to last from 7am yesterday to midnight on Tuesday.

But with the haze not as severe as predicted, the National Meteorological Centre issued only a yellow alert for Beijing and many surrounding areas yesterday. Yellow is the second level on China's four-tier colour-coded pollution alert system.

The weather observatory said that areas including southern Beijing, central Hebei, north Henan and west Shandong would be affected by heavy smog, which would start to dissipate from Wednesday.

It advised the public to take protective measures. Also, those who suffer from respiratory diseases are urged to stay indoors or wear face masks if they need to go out.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Some Beijingers see red over highest smog alert'. Print Edition | Subscribe