China Issues First Ever Pollution Red Alert – Here’s What The Smog Looks Like (Pictures)

With dense clouds of smog hanging over large swaths of Beijing, the Chinese government has issued its first ever pollution “red alert”.

Under the red alert protocol, schools are closed until further notice and all outdoor construction has been put on hold. The government has also placed limits on individual car use and has ordered a number of factories to halt operations until pollution levels go back down.

The pictures below compare current smog levels to clear days in Beijing — check them out to get a better idea of just how bad the pollution is:

The Forbidden City (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The Forbidden City
(Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Tiananmen Square (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Tiananmen Square
(Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Beijing’s National Stadium -- also known as the Bird’s Nest (Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Jason Lee/Reuters)

Beijing’s National Stadium — also known as the Bird’s Nest
(Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Jason Lee/Reuters)

Viewing deck at the top of the China Central Radio and Television Tower (Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Jason Lee/Reuters)

Viewing deck at the top of the China Central Radio and Television Tower
(Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Jason Lee/Reuters)

Jingshan Park, which oversees the Forbidden City (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Jingshan Park, which overlooks the Forbidden City
(Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Pedestrians walk past an elevated road downtown (Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Pedestrians walk past an elevated road downtown
(Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

China Central Television building (Photo: Reuters)

China Central Television building
(Photo: Reuters)

China Central Television building, from the ground level (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

China Central Television building, from the ground level
(Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Beijing's central business district (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing’s central business district
(Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

Pollution is a serious problem in China, one that has been worsening in recent years. According to Chen Zhu, who retired from his post as China’s Minister of Health in 2013, between 250,000 and 500,000 people die each year from the country’s severe air pollution.

In March, the Chinese government blocked all major media outlets from airing a documentary about the pollution problem after the film went viral online.

While this is the first time that China has issued a red alert, it’s far from the worst pollution the country has ever seen. Just last week, for example, levels of dangerous particulate matter jumped to 40 times the “safe” limit prescribed by the World Health Organization. This week, levels are only 10 times the limit.

So why a red alert now? The BBC’s John Sudworth — who is stationed in Beijing — hypothesizes that the move is likely a response to growing public pressure on the government:

“…the lack of any previous red alerts has been met with increasingly loud howls of derision. What would it take, people wondered last week – as their children felt their way to the still open schools through the poisonous gloom – for the government to act?”

Apparently the people’s concerns have been heard.

Read more from the BBC.

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