BEIJING • To escape the winter smog, a growing number of Chinese parents have resorted to sending their children to the south.
One of them, identified only as Mr Yu, told a Hong Kong newspaper that the best decision he has made since the start of the new year was to send his three-year-old son to live with relatives in southern Guangdong province.
"Even though we have paid 5,000 yuan (S$1,000) to 6,000 yuan in monthly school fees, the money spent is worth it," the Beijing resident told the Chinese-language paper Wen Wei Po.
He said his child had several bouts of flu and cough, and had to visit the doctor every week since the start of winter. The boy was even put on asthma medication.
"Miraculously, all his symptoms cleared up the minute he reached Guangdong," Mr Yu added.
Local media has reported long queues and overnight waits at children's hospitals during the recent episodes of hazardous smog.
"Paediatric wards are like a barometer of the weather," Dr Zhang Jiao, a paediatrician at Beijing United Family Hospital, told China Daily.
"Children are most sensitive to the weather, and conditions such as fever and cough are common on days with poor air quality."
Mr Yu said that at least five other pupils in his son's class have also taken the drastic measure of escaping to the smog-free south.
Another parent, identified as Madam Xiao, said she sent her parents and two young children to Sanya in Hainan province.
"We have managed to avoid this round of smog... But how long can we run away from the pollution?
"What is going to happen when the children start school?" said Madam Xiao, who owns a property in Sanya.
The newspaper said that for many wealthy Chinese families, one of the biggest dilemmas they face is whether they should continue to reside in Beijing, which has the best schools in China, or emigrate to another country so their children can grow up in a healthy environment.
For 34-year-old mother Lan Yanfei, a job offer in 2014 to work in Lijiang, a city in south-western Yunnan province, offered her a chance to flee Beijing. Some friends called her move impulsive, but the mother of two who now lives in Shenzhen has no regrets.
"My son's health is the first priority. Without health, everything is worthless," she told the Sixth Tone news website.
Has she considered returning to Beijing? "Right now, it is still far from having better air quality," she said. "Maybe in 30 or 50 years?"
Ctrip.com, China's biggest travel website, estimated that 150,000 people would travel overseas to avoid pollution.
Those who cannot go too far can seek refuge only by wearing face masks and using air purifiers.
"I am just one of the ordinary people. Protection is all I can do," said 39-year-old Associate Professor Du Haihong. She has two air purifiers and dozens of face masks at home, and tries to keep her 13-year-old at home as much as possible.
Of the 74 cities monitored by the Ministry of Environmental Protection last year, her city - Baoding in Hebei province - has the worst air.
Prof Du said she and her daughter have only one criterion when picking a travel destination: Blue skies.