x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pollution shuts down Beijing

Extremely high pollution levels have shrouded eastern China for the second time in two weeks, forcing airlines in Beijing and elsewhere to cancel flights and prompting government warnings for residents to stay indoors.

BEIJING // Extremely high pollution levels yesterday shrouded eastern China for the second time in two weeks, forcing airlines in Beijing and elsewhere to cancel flights because of poor visibility and prompting government warnings for residents to stay indoors.

The outlines of buildings in the capital receded into a white mist as pedestrians donned face masks to guard against the thick, caustic air, which stranded passengers during the first week of the country's peak, six-week period for travel surrounding the Chinese New Year on February 10.

The US Embassy reported a peak level of PM2.5 — one of the worst pollutants — at 526 micrograms per cubic metre, or "beyond index", and more than 20 times higher than World Health Organisation safety levels over a 24-hour period.

Liu Peng, an employee at a financial institution in Beijing, said he will keep his newborn baby indoors.

"It's really bad for your health, obviously," Mr Liu said. "I bike to work every day and always wear a mask. The pollution in recent years is probably due to the increase in private cars and government cars."

Beijing's official readings for PM2.5 were lower than the embassy's — 433 micrograms per cubic metre at one point in the afternoon — but even that level is considered "severe" and prompted the city government to advise residents to stay indoors as much as possible.

Visibility was less than 100 meters in some areas of eastern China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. More than 100 flights were cancelled in the eastern city of Zhengzhou, 33 in Beijing, 20 in Qindao and 13 in Jinan.