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Smog hits north China city Harbin; flights cancelled

Beijing, Oct 21 (): As northern China entered its high-smog season, the visibility of China’s northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province was reduced to below 50m (160ft) in parts of the city on Monday, forcing schools and highways to shut down and disruption of  flights.

The density of fine particulate matter used as an indicator of air quality has been found to be more than 24 times higher in the city than the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.

An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, which is near the Russian border and home to some 11 million people.

Authorities said primary and middle schools and some highways were closed Monday. At least 40 flights from its international airport had been cancelled or postponed. The official Xinhua News Agency said some buses also stopped running.

Apart from Harbin, a red alert for thick smog had been issued in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, the news agency added. Earlier this year, air pollution in China’s capital, Beijing, also soared past hazardous levels.

Other parts of north-eastern China are also experiencing severe smog, including Tangshan, two hours east of Beijing, and Changchun, the capital of Jilin province which borders Heilongjiang.

The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. Beijing’s continuing air pollution problem may have claimed its latest victim as singer Patti Austin was forced to cancel her performance in the city Friday after suffering an asthma attack.

Air quality in Chinese cities is of increasing worry to stability-obsessed leadership of China because it plays into popular anger over political privilege and rising inequality in the world’s second-largest economy.

The Beijing city government announced a new and complex raft of regulations to combat the effect of persistent, heavy air pollution on the populace. A key rule will take private vehicles off the roads on alternate days, depending on their license plate, when pollution is especially bad.