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Beijing issues new smog alert

China's capital has issued its second smog red alert of the month, triggering car bans and school closures.

Forecasters say a wave of smog is due to settle over Beijing from Saturday to Tuesday.

The Beijing Meteorological Administration said that levels of PM2.5, the smallest and deadliest form of airborne particulate matter, were set to top 500, more than 20 times the World Health Organisation's recommended level.

Half the cars in the city of 22.5 million will be forced off the road on any given day, while barbecues and other outdoor smoke sources will be banned. Schools will close and people advised to avoid outdoor activities.

Smog red alerts are triggered when high pollution levels are forecast to last more than 72 hours.

Visibility in some parts of the city are expected fall to less than 1,600ft on Tuesday when the smog will be at its worst, the city government website said.

A lack of wind will contribute to the smog lingering over the city, it said.

Although the four-tier smog warning system was launched two years ago, Beijing had not issued a red alert until last week, drawing accusations that it was ignoring serious bouts of smog to avoid the economic costs.

Some residents have defied the odd-even licence plate number traffic restrictions and complained about the need to stay home from work to accompany housebound children. Others have used the break from school to travel to places where the air is better, while many who stay wear air filtering face masks and run air purifiers in their homes.

Scientific studies attribute 1.4 million premature deaths per year to China's smog, almost 4,000 per day.

Most of the pollution is blamed on coal-fired power plants, along with vehicle emissions, building construction and factory work resulting from three decades of economic expansion. While Beijing's smog gets the most attention, the scourge strikes much of northern China on a regular basis, sometimes forcing the closure of major roads because of poor visibility.

The world's biggest carbon emitter, China plans to reduce hazardous emissions from coal-fired power plants by 50% over the next five years, and says its overall emissions will peak by about 2030 before starting to decline.

China still depends on coal for more than 60% of its electricity but is in the process of shifting to nuclear, solar and wind power.

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