Fresh off the heels of issuing its first ever “red alert” over air quality concerns in Beijing, the Chinese government is warning its citizens to expect particularly sooty skies this weekend. Beijing’s residents are now living under another “red alert,” but across northern China people are being warned to stay indoors, wear protective masks, and brace for smothering toxic smog over the next few days. Reuters reports:
The National Meteorological Centre said the smog would stretch from Xian, home to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors, across part of central China, through Beijing and up into Shenyang and Harbin in the frigid northeast.
The air pollution would begin rolling in from about Saturday evening and last until Tuesday, with visibility in the worst affected areas such as Beijing likely to fall to less than 1 km (0.6 mile), it said.
The pollution index would probably exceed 500 in Beijing and parts of Hebei province, which surrounds the capital, it said. Residents are encouraged to remain indoors at levels higher than 300, according to government guidelines.
Air pollution is an insidious thing, and as it blankets China this weekend it will force hundreds of millions of people to change habits. That’s going to levy a heavy economic toll in lost business. Smog has a big impact on public health as well, and all of these problems inevitably lead to a more restive population that, thanks to social media platforms, can more easily express its dissatisfaction with the ruling regime.
Smog is a problem across Asia, but the scale of it in China is unprecedented. With colder weather set to increase heating demand and therefore the need to burn coal, blue skies seem awfully far off.