Story highlights

Beijing issues its first red alert as air pollution hits hazardous levels

The red alert for pollution is the highest level in the system

Residents tell CNN how smog is affecting their day-to-day lives

Beijing CNN  — 

Much of the Chinese capital shut down Tuesday after Beijing’s city government issued its first red alert for pollution, closing schools and construction sites and restricting the number of cars on the road.

Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection warned that severe pollution would affect the Chinese capital for several days, starting Tuesday morning.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the air quality index stood at 250 Tuesday morning, classed as “very unhealthy” and 10 times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended levels.

Gao Yuanli, 35, told CNN that the smog often made her life difficult.

She wears face masks on most winter days, and she bought an air purifier two years ago, she said.

“I can’t go out on weekends now if the air is bad, and I don’t go to outdoor markets anymore,” she said.

The alert means extra measures will be enforced.

Car use is being cut in half by having only odd- or even-numbered license plates on the road at any one time. Heavy vehicles, including garbage trucks, are banned from the streets.

Other polluting industrial activity has been curbed, as have fireworks and outdoor barbecuing.

The red alert – the highest level in the system – is due to be in force until noon Thursday local time.

The city’s roads and sidewalks were much quieter than usual Tuesday, and small-business owners like Jia Xiaojiang, who makes egg pancakes, complained of fewer customers.

Jia doesn’t wear face masks but says the pollution has caused her respiratory distress.

“The smog is like toxic gas,” she said. “I never had a sore throat before. Starting from last year, my throat hurts once I speak.”

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