Expats advised to stay indoors as Beijing pollution hits record high

Published:  4 May at 6 PM
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Beijing’s regularly high levels of pollution are infamous the world over, but today’s reading is the highest ever, prompting calls for expats to stay indoors.

Early this morning, Beijing monitoring stations began recording lung-busting levels of dangerous AQI particles peaking at over 900. Residents and visitors are being urged to stay indoors or spend as little time as is possible on the streets. According to Chinese media, the concentration of PM10 particles reached 2,000mg per cubic metre, an astonishing 100 times above the recommended level.

The huge rise came less than 24 hours from the previous reading of 40mg per cubic metre, with meteorologists stating the soaring levels were caused by dust from a sandstorm in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Beijing’s high pollution levels have been causing problems for decades, even although the city’s government has introduced measures intended to keep them in check.

Normally, the air quality stays around the 300mg mark with occasional spurts to around 600. The majority of the foul air arrives via power stations and factories in Beijing’s neighbouring provinces, with Heibei in particular constantly suffering from some of the country’s worst pollution.

Recent studies in the UK have revealed some three million premature deaths in China are caused by poor air quality, with stricter controls and monitoring on emissions the recommended way forward. The study involved following daily mortality rates in 38 of China’s large cities, and found an average of 8.8 pollution-related deaths every day in the selected areas. Women are more susceptible than are men, and the elderly and sick are most likely to suffer from smog-related illnesses.

Expats in Beijing are luckier than its Chinese population, as many are digital nomads and can move to a healthier location if the pollution is unbearable. Many of China’s medium-sized cities are far healthier, if not entirely pollution free, and a few take clean air very seriously.

For example, coastal Xiamen is the greenest city in the huge country and is perfect for cyclists, and Fouzhou’s mountain-backed conurbation holds a fascinatingly historic downtown area. Taizhou on the eastern coastline has low pollution levels and is only three hours by train from Shanghai, and mountainous Kunming in Yunnan province is scenically stunning as well as easily accessible.

For expats who truly need to get away from it all, Lhasa is your paradise as its latitude makes it higher than any of China’s polluting power stations or factories. The former Tibetan capital is the only place in its province with internet access and, although some expat arrivals may have slight problems with altitude sickness, the air is so pure it almost sparkles.
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