Singaporeans fight Beijing smog with masks
As China issues red alerts over smog, S'poreans in Beijing are playing it safe
Singaporean Chris Yeo notices that he is usually the only guy wearing a 3M mask when he is walking around the smoggy streets of Beijing.
The financial controller, who has been based in the Chinese capital for the past eight months, said masks are more common among local women and joked that men avoid it for "macho" reasons.
"But I'm Singaporean, after all," Mr Yeo, 30, added with a laugh.
He has reason for concern, as the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing surpassed 500 last week.
But when Beijing declared a "red level" alert - the highest warning level for smog - for the first time on Monday night, many were surprised. (See report, right.)
Ms Alicia Wee, 21, a Singaporean who has been on an internship in Beijing since September, said: "In Beijing, air quality is poor all year round and it gets worse in winter. A normal day in Beijing tends to have a reading over 200.
"(Anything beyond) 500 would be considered bad, but not (that) shocking."
The AQI was 300 on Tuesday.
Nonetheless, some Singaporeans in Beijing said they have always taken precautions against air pollution.
Beijing-based photographer Stefen Chow, 35, who is married to a Singaporean, has four top-grade air purifiers in their 70 sq m apartment (about the size of a three-room HDB flat).
The couple have been keeping their three-month-old son and two-year-old girl indoors as much as possible.
Their daughter has been wearing a child-size mask outdoors since she was 16 months old.
Mr Chow describes a typical day in Beijing: "You can't see very well and things are just a little grey. It almost feels as if someone has put a filter over your eyes... You can also feel the dirt on your skin."
He was in Singapore when the haze hit in August and said: "Interestingly, I think the odour is a little fainter than the worst days in Singapore this year...(but) it is no less harmful, of course."
Another Singaporean, Ms Tan Xin Yi, 24, who is pursuing her master's at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said her mother made a rare call from Singapore on Monday, reminding her to put on a mask.
She has lived in Beijing for the past two years and said: "I would say (the smog) is a silent killer - it can be seen, but it rarely affects you (immediately).
"When I was in Singapore, I actually felt short of breath when the Pollutant Standard Index hit 300."
Mr Yeo, who plans to live in Beijing for the medium term, thinks the Chinese government can be effective in controlling the smog, if they wish to.
He said: "(Chinese President) Xi Jinping's office has vowed to fight against pollution and the locals are a tough bunch who have learned to poke fun and live with the smog. Some even feel the Western media is blowing the situation up."
Mr Chow, who has been living in Beijing for seven years, admitted he and his wife are concerned about their children's health in Beijing and he welcomed the red alert issued by the government.
"If drastic measures aren't(taken), there will be no clear solution to clear up the skies in Beijing.
"On a good day, Beijing is simply beautiful."
More Chinese cities get red alert
Pollution red alerts have spread to more Chinese cities, state media reported yesterday as Beijing entered its third day of heavy smog.
Officials also warned that the poor conditions could last until Saturday in some places.
Dingzhou and Xinji, two cities in Hebei province which surrounds Beijing, followed the capital's lead to issue their first-ever red alerts, the state-run China Daily reported. Another 27 cities across northern parts of the country also upgraded their public warning levels on Tuesday, it said.
More than 300 million people in the region were affected by the toxic air, it added.
"According to forecasts, from Dec 8 to 12, the overall conditions for the atmospheric diffusion (of smog) are unfavourable," said the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau on its official website earlier this week. - AFP.
China adopted a four-colour coded alert system on air pollution in 2013.
It is based on the air quality index (AQI) and Beijing has different contingency plans in place, depending on the level of the alert.
China's air quality index:
- 0-50 Excellent
- 51-100 Good
- 101-150 Slight pollution
- 151-200 Moderate pollution
- 201-300 Heavy pollution
- 301-500 Hazardous
But the government does not always issue alerts purely on the AQI.
Analysts have linked Monday's red alert to Chinese President Xi Jinping's latest promise to take action over China's emissions at the global climate change talks in Paris.
Heavy pollution in the next 24 hours. Factories should curb pollutant emission.
Hazardous air quality in the next 24 hours, or heavy pollution for three consecutive days. Streets should be cleaned and sprinkled with water more often, quarries are to suspend part of their operations, cover up or sprinkle water at construction sites to curb pollution.
Alternate heavily polluted and hazardous days for three consecutive days. Suspend all operations at quarries and construction sites, stop transportation vehicles that could leave dust, partial or complete shutdown of factories, ban fireworks and outdoor barbecues, schools and kindergartens are urged to cancel outdoor activities.
Hazardous days for three consecutive days. Schools and kindergartens are shut down, flexible work hours at public organisations, enterprises, warnings issued to cancel large-scale outdoor activities, odd-even number licence plate traffic restriction; reduce the number of public service vehicles by 30 per cent.