A woman covers her face with a mask as she rushes to a subway station on a heavily polluted day in Beijing Tuesday, 8 December 2015. Beijing's red alerts for smog are as much about duration as they are about severity of pollution forecasts. The forecasting model must predict three or more days of smog with levels of 300 or higher on the city's air quality index - which typically would include having levels of dangerous PM 2.5 particles of about 10 times the safe level. Photo: Andy Wong / AP Photo

BEIJING, 9 December 2015 (AP) – Unhealthy smog hovered over downtown Beijing as limits on cars, factories and construction sites kept pollution from spiking even higher Wednesday, on the second of three days of restrictions triggered by the city's first red alert for smog.

Cars with even-numbered license plates were kept off roads, and schools and constructions sites remained closed. Far fewer than usual pedestrians walked the streets — many of them wearing white masks to filter the air.

Insurance and water purifier saleswoman Zhang Jingtie said she had no choice but to be out despite restrictions through Thursday that have prompted some businesses to close and some others to allow employees to work from home.

"I stay outdoors most of the time, so I am very worried that I may have cancer if I continue to live in this kind of air for long time," said Zhang, 25. "So, we really need to do something to protect the environment."

Pollution levels midday in downtown Beijing were mostly between 250 and 300 on the city's air quality index — suggesting the restrictions were having an effect. The city's alert was triggered by a forecast Monday that pollution levels would be above 300 for three days straight.

The index is strongly linked to levels of the dangerous tiny particles PM2.5, which at midday ranged from about 200 to 250 micrograms per cubic meter downtown — or 8 to 10 times the safe level recommended by the World Health Organization.

Although many other cities in China and elsewhere in the world typically see levels of smog even worse than Wednesday's pollution in Beijing, the Chinese capital's latest bout of smog has triggered its first red alert under a 2-year-old system of alerts and restrictions to deal with persistent contamination.

A grey soupy haze subsumed Beijing's unique landmarks, convenience stores sold air-filtering masks at brisk rates and health-food stores promoted pear juice as a traditional Chinese tonic for the lungs.

"And air purifiers at home are a must," Beijing resident Sun Yuanyuan said at a downtown Beijing juice shop. [more]

Unhealthy smog hovers over Beijing on Day 2 of smog alert

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