As Beijing remains shrouded in thick grey smog less than 50 days before it hosts the Olympics, city authorities have now decided to take vehicles with odd or even license plates off the roads on alternate days from July to September.
The capital's dangerous levels of air pollution that can trigger respiratory disorders like asthma, pose a potential health risk for almost 10,000 athletes who will participate in the summer games from August 8-24. The International Olympic Committee has indicated that certain events may be rescheduled if air quality is unsafe.
Australia has recently said that its athletes will remain in Hong Kong during the opening ceremony to limit their exposure to polluted air. British teams will wear specially designed masks, and Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie has said he won't run the marathon for health safety reasons.
Beijing has spent nearly 17 billion dollars on cleaning up its environment for the Olympics and measured the improvement in air quality by 'blue-sky days'. There were 115 blue-sky days this year from January to June, but a toxic blanket of smog continues to hide the city's skyline.
Three foreign experts were included this week on a panel to monitor air quality during the Olympics. Air quality forecasts will be provided for venues even three days to a week in advance.
And in a desperate measure from July 20 to September 20, vehicle owners will be allowed to drive only on odd or even days based on whether the last number of their car registration is odd or even. The decision, announced on a government website, said owners will be compensated by not having to pay road and vehicle taxes for three months --- at a cost of $186 million to the government. About 3.5 million vehicles ply on Beijing roads.
The ban will not apply to public transport, diplomatic cars and emergency vehicles. Only 70 per cent government-owned vehicles will be off the roads.
Major construction projects in Beijing are also racing for completion ahead of a two-month construction ban starting next month.