By Cailey Rizzo
December 20, 2016
Beijing red alert for pollution
Credit: VCG via Getty Images

Beijing has issued a red alert for smog that will last through Wednesday.

A red alert is the highest level of notice in the city’s four-tier warning system and is only issued after four consecutive days of heavy air pollution or when the air quality index exceeds 500.

Despite Beijing’s steps to lower pollution, the city’s air quality index reached 387 by Tuesday evening, enough to be categorized as “hazardous.” Official American guidelines say that people should avoid “unnecessary exercise” when conditions reach this level.

Schools and businesses around the city will remain closed until the alert is lifted, which may last longer than Wednesday.

Over the past few days, hospitals in the area have reported a surge in asthma and respiratory issues. The city has shut down major highways and canceled more than 100 flights, as the smog has reduced visibility for both flying and driving.

The best the government can do when smog reaches this level is hope for a strong gust of wind to come and clear the air, which could arrive on Thursday.

In the meantime, Beijing has shut down 700 heavy industry plants and required an additional 500 to slow down production.

Three years ago, the Chinese government passed a plan to drastically reduce air pollution over 20 years. However, many are growing increasingly unsure that the country will be able to meet its goals in time.

Much of Beijing’s pollution is blamed on burning coal, which increases in winter when people use more energy to deal with the colder weather.

Severe smog has been a persistent problem in northern China this year, although this instance is the city’s first red alert of the year.