Beijing issued its first-ever red alert on Monday. The radical measure means that half the cars in the capital must stay off the streets, outdoor construction must stop, and schools must close. The pollution is simply too dangerous.
While it should surprise no one that China's still struggling with its smog problems, the red alert in Beijing means that not even the highest-ranking government officials can escape the stench. Red alerts are supposed to be issued when the air-quality levels rise above 300 for three consecutive days. That puts it in the "hazardous" range on a scale that tops out at 500, and the government warns that "everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion". So it's very bad.
It's also very expensive. Just imagine what would happen if New York City ordered half the cars off the road for several days at a time. "The cost of issuing a red alert is really high for the city, so officials weren't willing to do it so easily," Dong Liansai from Greenpeace told The Wall Street Journal. "But everyone has been talking about the issue lately and wondering why Beijing hasn't issued it before, even during the really bad spells of smog."
Some activists say that Beijing should have issued the red alert sooner. By 6:00 pm local time, PM2 concentration readings at the United States Embassy were 10 times over the recommended level. This is nearly a month after pollution in Shenyang, just over 644km northeast of the capital, spiked to the highest levels ever recorded. Even China's state-run news agency suggested that the country faced a "doomsday" scenario.
Beijing's red alert is expected to remain in place until at least Thursday. In the meantime, city residents should probably stay inside at all costs. Because if the pain of terribly polluted air isn't bad enough, trying to get around town in the few cars available sounds dreadful. But hey, at least China's cabinet sounds committed to resolving the problem in the coming decades.
Image via AP.