The pall of smog hangs over Beijing as red alert continues

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Dec 10, 2015 01:30 IST
A couple wearing masks make their ways in a shopping district amid heavy smog. The red alert continued in Beijing for a third consecutive day. (REUTERS Photo)

The red alert for smog over Beijing continued for the third consecutive day on Wednesday even as millions of cars went off the roads, many schools continued to be shut and reports talked of surging sales of air purifiers.

More than 2 million cars were off the roads, construction activities remained suspended and factories have been ordered shut to cut down on emission.

Questions continued to be raised about the timing of the alert – why was it not put in place during the end of November when the level of smog in Beijing was worse?

There was no answer from the government.

Authorities registered cases against those who violated the emergency regulations; till Tuesday evening, traffic police had registered 3690 cases against those who broke rules.

Beijing is getting tough with those who violate traffic restrictions and production suspension after the first-ever red alert for smog was issued on Monday.

State media came to the defence of the authorities.

“It is unlikely that the smog can be eliminated in the short term, but the red alert placated people that the government has attached utmost importance to it, which is largely considered as a core guarantee to solve problems,” the state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial.

It was not immediately clear whether the people have been actually been placated by the government’s step.

But one thing is certain – many will not take a chance in the future and were buying up air purifiers.

A shop owner at Taobao, China’s largest online retail store, told the official news agency Xinhua that his shop has sold all imported air purifiers in stock. “We normally sell 20 to 30 purifiers a month but we have sold over 80 just this week. I have sold out of all my stock, but customers can place orders and we will deliver within two weeks.”

It has been forecast that the smog will gradually clear from over Beijing from Thursday afternoon. And that the lessons learnt from and measures taken to tackle the two recent bursts of heavy pollution will come into play later this winter.

“Though Beijing has seen two episodes of very high AQI levels in the last two weeks, the overall trend in air pollution levels is positive.

The average PM2.5 concentration across China in 2015 saw a 12 percent drop comparing with 2014, and Greenpeace expects that the introduction of further measures to combat pollution and cut coal consumption will keep this trend into next year,” Dong Liansai, Greenpeace east Asia climate and energy campaigner told HT.

Dong added: “The Beijing city government has already worked to shut down three out of four local coal fired power plants, with the fourth due to be shut down early next year. Moreover, a regional coal consumption cap has been introduced for the cities and provinces in Eastern China including Beijing and Hebei. Yet there still are provinces that do not have that cap, and might be a potential threat on curbing air pollution, if the coal industries expand in such places.”

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