Here’s What It Looks Like in Beijing During a Three-Day Smog Alert

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A woman wears a mask as she rides her bicycle along a street near Tiananmen Square on the third day of a "red alert" for pollution in Beijing on December 21. Photo: Wang Zhao

On December 7, right in the middle of the U.N. climate conference, Beijing announced its first-ever red alert for pollution. Three days ago, the air was so dense with smog that the authorities had to send out another red alert — one that is still ongoing. The four-tier pollution-alert system has been around for two years; many say the government was too worried about economic losses to declare a red alert before December, even though some residents are positive that they’ve experienced far smoggier days before.

More than 2,000 factories — many of which run on coal — have been told to halt or reduce production in the hopes that it might clear the skies enough to let people go outside without worrying about inhaling a dangerous quantity of bad particles. Schools were told to stay closed today and tomorrow — authorities have said that it isn’t safe for children or the elderly to even go outside. All the cars in the city of more than 22 million alternate days off the road, and residents aren’t allowed to use grills. 

China announced plans at the recent climate conference in Paris to cut emissions from the coal-fired power plants by 50 percent over the next few years. However, the effects of this change, among other promised policies, won’t be noticeable for a while, meaning that photos like the ones below — and the illnesses and deaths that result from such conditions — aren’t about to go extinct anytime soon. 

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Smog covers upper air of Beijing on December 19.Photo: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images/2015 ChinaFotoPress
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A woman wears a mask as she walks along an overpass on the third day of a "red alert" for pollution in Beijing.Photo: Wang Zhao
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A man walks towards a "red alert" pollution notice announcing the suspension of outdoor work on an entrance to a closed construction site in Beijing on December 20.Photo: Greg Baker
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Steam rises behind a wall of the Forbidden City, once the home of China's emperors, on a polluted day in Beijing on December 19.Photo: Greg Baker
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A man wears a mask as he walks past the Tiananmen gate tower on the third day of a "red alert" for pollution in Beijing.Photo: Wang Zhao
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Commuters drive along a road on the third day of a "red alert" for pollution in Beijing on December 21.Photo: Wang Zhao

And here are photos of similarly smoggy conditions in Beijing earlier this month. 

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Chinese Paramilitary police wear masks to protect against pollution, a rare occurence, as they stand guard during smog in Tiananmen Square on December 9.Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
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Tourists visit the Olympic Park during heavy smog on December 1.Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images
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A woman wears a face mask next to traffic shrouded in heavy smog on December 1.Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images