A view of Beijing's CBD on Jan. 13. (Photo/Xinhua)
Air pollution levels in Beijing have taken on astronomical proportions over the weekend as health authorities urged locals to stay in doors until the worst is over, reports Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao.
The notoriously polluted Chinese capital has been blanketed by a thick gray fog since Friday, as Beijing's official air quality index reached the city's maximum recorded value of 500 in some areas. The Chinese system does not report numbers beyond 500, although levels between 300-500 are regarded as "hazardous" according to standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The US embassy in Beijing also tweeted that their own readings were "beyond index."
According to experts, the pollution levels in Beijing on Saturday and Sunday were the worst on record, with data showing particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM 2.5), small enough to penetrate the lungs, reaching more than 600 micrograms per cubic meter at some monitoring stations and as high as 900 micrograms per cubic meter on Saturday.
The highest average daily PM 2.5 in Beijing was 583 micrograms per cubic meter, recorded in the city's Tongzhou district. The reading is nearly seven times the Chinese standard and more than 22 times the safe daily level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
High levels of PM 2.5 has been identified as a major cause of asthma and respiratory diseases.
Residents say the recent air quality has been so poor that nothing can be seen more than 20 meters ahead and that the reduced visibility caused major disruptions to Beijing's already-problematic traffic conditions.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said conditions are unlikely to improve significantly until after Tuesday as the heavy pollution is trapped in an area of low pressure. In the meantime, the center encouraged using public transport and canceled outdoor activities for schools, while also advising the elderly, children, and those suffering from respiratory and cardivascular illnesses to avoid leaving their homes.
Other Chinese cities, such as nearby Tianjin and the city of Wuhan in central Hubei province, also reported severe pollution over the last few days.
Meanwhile, China's meteorological authority has issued a yellow alert for fog that continues to shroud the country's central and eastern regions. The fog has already grounded flights at airports in Beijing as well as the provinces of Hebei, Hunan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jilin, Heilongjiang and Sichuan, with visibility reduced to around 100 meters at some airports, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
The heavy fog has also affected traffic on some highways in Hebei, Sichuan, Hunan, Shandong and Liaoning provinces, although the road network center under China's Ministry of Transport said traffic should resume later on Monday.