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A man wearing a respiratory protection mask walks toward an office building during the smog after a red alert was issued for heavy air pollution in Beijing's central business district, China, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2VY34
Reuters/Jason Lee
A walk in the ghost town.
FRESH AIR

Beijing is finally breathing a sigh of relief after a week in hell

By Echo Huang

The toxic air that’s shrouded Beijing in a haze the past week has finally subsided.

At midnight on Dec. 22, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection department lifted (link in Chinese) its red alert, the country’s highest pollution warning. At the time, the Air Quality Index was still at 466, a hazardous level, according to Beijing Air, which monitors pollution levels and is not associated with the government.

The red alert, Beijing’s first of the year, went into effect at 4:30pm on Dec. 16. As of noon local time on Dec. 22, the air quality, at 72, was considered “moderate.” Chinanews, a state-owned news organization, however said that “Beijing air quality overall went back to excellent level.”

Since the red alert went into effect, many Beijingers found themselves trapped as smog restrictions cancelled flights and closed down roads.

AP/Andy Wong
Air China passenger planes preparing to take off at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Dec. 21.
AP/Andy Wong
A man wearing a mask looks at a flight information board at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
AP/Ng Han Guan
A man wearing a mask at the Central Business District under construction in Beijing.

The month of December is often when pollution peaks, as the city burns more coal to heat homes and businesses. The city was finally rescued by cold air, which blasted down from the north and blew away (link in Chinese) the choking smog, according to Chinanews.

Though people can breathe a sigh of relief, some remain upset. “To tackle the pollution you rely on God’s wind,” commented (link in Chinese) a Shanghai-based China’s social media Weibo user. “Looks like an easy way to govern the country in this way.”