[BEIJING] A miasma of hazardous smog blanketed Beijing and the rest of northern China for the fifth day even after the capital removed a red alert, the highest in its four-tier system of pollution warnings, because the pollution had been expected to ease.
The smog continued to rise into Wednesday, though a new forecast said it would start to improve later in the day. By 9am, the concentration of PM2.5 - the tiniest particles that pose the greatest health risks - was 304 micrograms per cubic meter at Tiananmen Square. The overall air quality index was 400, indicating "severe" pollution.
The canceling of the red alert meant traffic restrictions were lifted and schools reopened despite the lingering smog.
That highlighted the challenge government officials face in both forecasting the pollution - the red alert is imposed when the air quality index is forecast to rise above 200 for three days - and cleaning it up without disrupting the lives of Beijing's 20 million residents too severely.
Other cities surrounding Beijing in northern China issued red alerts on Tuesday as the capital lifted its own warning. Tianjin's red alert, which goes into effect when the AQI rises above 500, will stay in effect until 6am Dec 24. Other cities including Baoding, Handan and Xingtai were also under a red alert.
Shanghai also warned residents to stay indoors because of the smog on Wednesday. The air in China's financial center was described as "severely polluted," the worst on a 6-grade scale, the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website.