BEIJING • Heavy fog and hazardous smog continued to cause havoc across many parts of China yesterday, grounding flights and bringing traffic to a standstill.
Several expressways in Beijing, including sections linking the capital with Harbin in the north-east, Shanghai in the east and neighbouring Tianjin municipality, were closed, according to a Weibo post by the Beijing Public Security Bureau.
Northern China has been engulfed in thick, choking smog since the start of the New Year and the situation is expected to last until a cold front arrives next week. Adding to the disruptions, the government on Tuesday issued its first national red alert for fog, saying visibility would be as low as 50m.
The National Meteorological Centre (NMC) yesterday renewed alerts for both smog and fog.
It renewed an orange alert for smog, saying heavy smog will persist in parts of Beijing, Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Hubei, Jiangxi and Hunan until this morning.
It also renewed a red alert for fog in various northern, eastern and central regions.
Across China, hundreds of flights have been affected since the New Year. Many highways were forced to close as visibility levels plunged. In the central Henan province, low visibility led to traffic restrictions on 12 expressways. The province also ordered all kindergartens and primary schools to close for the day.
The neighbouring province of Shandong upgraded its alert for heavy fog from orange to red and, as of noon, more than 155 flights from its capital Jinan had been delayed, cancelled or diverted.
Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said three of its flights from Singapore to Shanghai were delayed yesterday and on Tuesday.
The carrier is working with all parties concerned, including the Chinese Air Traffic Authority, to minimise operational delays, a spokesman for the airline said.
Weekly, SIA operates 21 flights to Beijing, 28 flights to Shanghai and 14 flights to Guangzhou.
Singapore budget carriers Scoot- Tigerair and Jetstar Asia said their services to China were not affected by the poor weather conditions.
China's NMC warned that thick fog in parts of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shanxi will, till this morning, reduce visibility to less than 200m. In extreme cases, visibility may fall below 50m in these regions.
Earlier, Beijing Evening News reported that a large cruise ship with more than 2,000 people on board had been stuck at sea for two days because the thick smog made it impossible to safely berth the vessel.
"Unlike passengers who are stuck at some public facilities like an airport, we got to use the pool and the gym to keep ourselves busy," one passenger told the newspaper. The ship finally docked at the port of Tianjin on Monday.
Residents in northern China have come to expect such dense air pollution in late autumn and winter, as people burn coal to heat their homes. Recently, however, the problem has been particularly bad, and the city has been enveloped in smog for extended periods starting last October.
Officials in more than 20 cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, declared a five-day red alert on Dec 16, the most severe warning. Schools were closed. Work at all construction sites halted and half of the private car population ordered off the roads. Hundreds of factories, including steel mills, were forced to scale down production or close completely. The environmental group Greenpeace estimates that 460 million people were affected in last month's "airpocalypse".
China has a four-tier colour-coded warning system for severe weather, with red being the most serious, followed by orange, yellow and blue.
•Additional reporting by Karamjit Kaur