Beijing has been smothered by a wall of smog and sand drifting in from the Gobi Desert, further spotlighting the need for the Chinese “war on pollution”.
Residents wore face masks to protect themselves from the haze that has shrouded the capital.
Media reported that readings for tiny particles in the air have reached above the levels deemed by authorities to be heavily polluted.
The combination of smog and Gobi grit often occurs during spring when winds blow the dust from Inner Mongolia and then on to the East China Sea.
The conditions have once again put a spotlight on China’s efforts to reduce pollution as the economy grows.
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Three weeks ago, Beijing and the surrounding province of Hebei announced they will plant trees, establish green belts and make use of rivers and wetlands to create a “green necklace” to protect China’s smog-hit capital from pollution.
Beijing’s reputation as a major world city has been tarnished by regular outbreaks of hazardous smog, especially during the winter, and poorly regulated heavy industry in neighbouring Hebei has been identified as one of the major culprits.
The Hebei government said in a notice published on its website that it would raise forest coverage, expand ecological space and use the river systems, mountains, wetlands and farms to establish new green belts around Beijing.
China’s environment ministry has also said it will send 5,600 inspectors on a year-long investigation into the sources of air pollution in major northern cities.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said in a notice on its official website that inspections into 28 northern cities in and around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region will focus on improving the way the country’s standards and laws are enforced.
The 28 cities have already pledged to draw up detailed action plans to address smog, promising to shut small polluting enterprises and halve coal and steel production in the winter.
The region is a frontline in China’s “war on pollution”, but despite improvements last year it saw average concentrations of breathable particles known as PM2.5 rise 48 percent in the first two months of 2017.
The notice said the latest campaign, described as the largest ever undertaken, would seek to “normalise compliance” in a region frequently accused of turning a blind eye to polluters in order to protect jobs and revenues.
The ministry has routinely named and shamed local governments and enterprises in northern China for failing to comply with anti-smog regulations.
China is also launching a new round of inspections that will focus on overall environmental compliance in 15 provinces and regions, including the city of Shanghai, Liaoning in the northeast and the island of Hainan on the southeast coast.
The first round of inspections last year, which covered big coal-producing regions like Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Shanxi, showed that progress had been made in the battle against air pollution, but water quality in some areas had deteriorated sharply.