Saturday, January 28, 2017

Beijing welcomes Year of the Rooster engulfed in smog from firecrackers

Beijing and other cities in northern China on Saturday welcomed the Year of the Rooster enveloped by a thick cloud of smog from the customary fireworks and firecrackers lit by millions of Chinese people to celebrate the New Year and scare off evil spirits.

As in previous years, the blue skies over the city on the eve of the celebrations, thanks to the closure of factories and decline in traffic, disappeared as pollution levels shot up around midnight, when the fireworks display and firecrackers are at their peak.

At around 2am Saturday local time (6pm Friday GMT), the level of polluting particles in the air over the capital exceeded 680 micrograms per cubic meter, which is considered dangerous. Although it had dropped to 271 on Saturday morning, it continues to be harmful to health.

Authorities and meteorologists had already warned the public that excessive use of fireworks could cause pollution due to adverse weather conditions and urged people to set off fewer firecrackers, a request few paid heed to.

Beijing had also taken other measures to prevent pollution levels from rising during the Lunar New Year period by reducing the number of places where people are allowed to burn firecrackers from 511 in 2016 to 208 in 2017, and by reducing the number of days during which the firecrackers are sold from 20 to 10.

Over 440 cities have banned fireworks during these days - Beijing had also enforced such a ban for several years in the past decade but lifted it after public opposition - and another 764 cities have imposed some other restrictions, Hong Kong daily the South China Morning Post reported.

The Chinese Lunar New Year starts a seven-day holiday period for most of the country's citizens, also referred to as the Spring Festival, when millions of people go to their hometowns to usher in the new year with their families.


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