Residents urged to avoid outdoor activities as strong winds bring in dust from northwest.

Beijing was shrouded in thick brown dust that sent pollution levels soaring on Monday morning, as heavy winds brought in sand from Inner Mongolia and other parts of northwestern China.

The China Meteorological Administration announced a yellow alert on Monday morning, saying that the sandstorms had spread from Inner Mongolia into the provinces of Gansu, Shanxi and Hebei, which surrounds Beijing. It advised residents to avoid all outdoor activities.

Beijing’s official air quality index reached a maximum level of 500 on Monday morning, with floating particles known as PM10 reaching more than 8,100 micrograms per cubic metre in six parts of the city, according to the state-run tabloid Global Times. Visibility was reduced to between 300 (984 feet) and 800 metres (2,624 feet),  state media reported.

Readings of PM2.5, smaller particles that infiltrate the lungs, were also approaching 300 micrograms per cubic metre, far higher than China’s standard of 35 micrograms.

Beijing faces regular sandstorms in March and April as a result of its proximity to the enormous Gobi desert as well as deforestation throughout northern China.

Beijing and surrounding regions have been suffering from relatively high levels of pollution in recent weeks, with the city also shrouded in smog during the opening of parliament starting on March 5.

Early morning in Beijing on Monday as the capital was hit by a sandstorm [Thomas Peter/REUTERS]





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