For the first time in history, Beijing has issued a red alert for smog, forcing schools and businesses to close and placing restrictions on traffic and factories. According to Fox News, fifty percent of the city’s automobiles will be taken off of the road due to the alert. Beijing currently has over 21 million people in its population.
In an effort to stave off the thick polluted smog, the city is closing down schools, limiting factory work, shutting down some businesses, and putting a halt to outdoor construction. Restrictions are in place for the use of automobiles for travel while the citizens of Beijing walk around with masks on to avoid the poisonous air.
The red alert is considered to be the most severe warning ever issued for the city’s smog problem. Beijing uses a “four-tier system,” which was “adopted a little over two years ago,” according to the Fox News report. It is the highest state of caution possible issued in the city. The alert was sent out on Monday and is expected to continue until midday on Thursday.
An analysis released in early 2015 revealed that as many as 250,000 Chinese residents could die prematurely from the fog in the country’s major cities. With so much apparent danger to the people of China, a red alert could be one step towards protecting them.
The residents of Beijing have long wondered just how bad it had to get before a red alert would be issued. According to Te-Ping Chen of the Wall Street Journal, it has likely been a matter of money. Dong Liansai, a campaigner for Greenpeace, stated to the Journal that the alert may have been sent out due to “greater scrutiny from authorities.” Dong explained:
“The cost of issuing a red alert is really high for the city, so officials weren’t willing to do it so easily. 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.”
While this is the first time that Beijing has ever issued such an alert, other Chinese cities have already been taking measures to cut back on the problem. Shenyang, China, for example, rose the red alert for smog just last month after their air pollution levels rose to dangerously high numbers.
Along with pressure from authorities, social media could have also played a part in Beijing’s decision to issue the alert. As the Wall Street Journal explains:
“Last week, high concentrations of smog in Beijing at times made it seem like an eerie, artificial dusk had descended on the nation’s capital, with pollution across the city breaching the government’s official air quality index. Photos of the unnatural pall that swallowed up buildings across town went viral on social media, with even normally more restrained state media outlets such as national broadcaster China Central Television giving wide coverage to the spectacle.”