Hospital visits spiked, roads were closed and flights cancelled Monday as China choked under a vast cloud of toxic smog, with forecasters warning worse was yet to come.
At least 23 cities in the world’s most populous nation have issued red alerts for air pollution since Friday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
A host of emergency measures have been implemented to protect the public’s health from the smog, which is smothering almost a ninth of the entire country.
On Monday evening — the fourth day of the alert which is scheduled to end on Wednesday — Beijing’s air quality was better than feared, with PM 2.5 levels hovering around 200, according to data maintained by the US embassy.
The ministry of environmental protection claimed anti-pollution measures, such as temporary factory closures and taking half of cars off the roads, accounted for the better-than-expected numbers, Xinhua reported late Sunday.
But the figure remained eight times the World Health Organization’s daily recommended maximum exposure level to the microscopic particles that carry major health risks.
And the relatively low number was just a temporary reprieve, Beijing’s meteorological authority told AFP, adding that the worst haze would hit the city Monday night and linger until Tuesday.
In neighbouring Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, PM 2.5 levels stood as high as 701 at noon, with levels of larger PM 10 particles even higher.
In the port city of Tianjin, where readings for PM 2.5 climbed over 400 early in the morning, more than 131 flights were cancelled and around 75 delayed Monday morning, according to Xinhua.
Highways in the city were also closed, it said.