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Wind And Storms Give Beijing Breathing Space

War against smog being won, insists top official

Peter Simpson in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Jul 30, 2008

Clear skies, high visibility and a fresh breeze offered beleaguered Olympic organisers breathing space to declare some good news yesterday: the war on smog is being won.

“The air is better by 20 per cent,” Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau deputy director Du Shaozhong said. “We have seen comprehensive measures implemented, and we’ve seen that they have had comprehensive results.”

Dr Du repeated a standard raft of statistics that suggest this month had enjoyed “25 days of clean air”, though to the eye Beijing was enveloped in smog for most of the month.

A blanket of smog that had hung over the city for the past four days – and marred Sunday’s opening of the Olympic Village – dissipated thanks to overnight thunderstorms and increased wind. They lent contrast and definition to Beijing’s new skyline and eye-catching Olympic venues.

Rare views of the surrounding mountains also gave credence to Dr Du’s claim that the blend of short-term measures introduced recently was now working.

Scores of factories have been closed and hundreds of thousands of vehicles restricted in an odd-even car number plate rule.

Air quality was well within World Health Organisation recommendations – a stark and welcome contrast to the recent run of harmful levels.

But Dr Du’s bold claim of victory was dismissed by visiting Olympians.

“You can’t say the war on smog has been won. Yesterday [Monday] was very bad,” said Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Tancred. “We have an unprecedented medical team here ready to help athletes with respiratory problems.”

Dr Du admitted that as a Beijing native of 50 years, his health suffered on heavily polluted days.

“You must trust what your body tells you. On [badly polluted] days, I feel bad. But today I feel good … My hope is that we will have more days when people feel good and the data is good,” he said. But, he added, technical know-how and scientific data must be trusted and believed before the hundreds of photographic and TV images beamed across the world in recent days.

Dr Du dismissed reports in Monday’s state media that quoted a leading environmentalist, Zhu Tong , as saying further government measures could include taking up to 90 per cent of privately owned cars off the road in a last-gasp attempt to make the air safe and improve the host nation’s global image.

“I do know about the 90 per cent figure, and I would have to talk with and ask China Daily how they obtained such figures.”

Mr Zhu, a leading consultant advising the government on its Olympics air cleanup quest, confirmed last night that senior officials had discussed the idea of restricting all the capital’s vehicles.

“We have proposed to the authorities to take 90 per cent of vehicles off the road if there are no other tools left to combat air pollution. We suggested the measure be adopted if the bad air quality continues,” he said.

“I don’t know if all environmental officials had been informed about the plan, but I think many understand this might be the last tool we have to fight pollution if the air quality keeps getting worse despite the measures we have taken so far. Related authorities will have to inform the public about the measures days prior to any implementation; otherwise, the extreme traffic restriction would cause confusion and chaos.”

Additional reporting by Al Guo

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