Dangerously heavy smog in China has affected nearly half a billion people, The Financial Times reports, forcing schools to close and grounding flights out of major airports. Red alerts have been issued in 24 cities across northeast China, with authorities calling on residents to stay indoors during the country’s worst smog spell of 2016.
According to Greenpeace East Asia, around 200 million people in China are exposed to smog levels that are at least 10 times higher than considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). Operations at more than 700 companies in Beijing ground to a halt on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports, and more than 200 flights out of the capital’s international airport have been cancelled.
China has long battled dangerous air pollution during the winter, when consumption of power from coal-powered plants increases. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, and although some cities have sought to promote natural gas and electric cars in the face of mounting public criticism, environmental groups say more needs to be done.
“The link between smog and industry is clear,” Lauri Myllyvirta, an air pollution expert at Greenpeace, tells the Financial Times, adding: “It’s a result of the government’s old-fashioned stimulus that boosted the industrial sectors.”