Delhi fights hazardous pollution after Diwali party

The national capital’s air quality dropped to the season’s worst on the morning after the Hindu festival of Diwali, but the situation was still better than the last three years, according to government agencies. (AP)
Updated 28 October 2019

Delhi fights hazardous pollution after Diwali party

  • A thick smog engulfed landmarks such as the capital’s Red Fort and India Gate
  • Firecrackers and rockets lit up the night sky and left clouds of smoke, adding to emissions from cars and trucks and stubble fires by farmers around Delhi

NEW DELHI: After India’s biggest firework party of the year, Delhi awoke to a pollution hangover Monday with the capital forced to breathe hazardous levels of toxic particles.
A thick smog engulfed landmarks such as the capital’s Red Fort and India Gate while drivers had visibility cut by the haze that built up after the Diwali holiday weekend.
With the pollution threat growing over the past decade, the Supreme Court banned most fireworks for the Hindu festival of lights. However, few revellers followed the order.
Firecrackers and rockets lit up the night sky and left clouds of smoke, adding to emissions from cars and trucks and stubble fires by farmers around Delhi that have made it the world’s most polluted capital.
Tens of thousands of people set off firecrackers into the early hours of Monday, pushing the government air quality index beyond the top recordable level of 999.
While the pollution was less serious than previous years, the amount of the most harmful PM 2.5 pollutants was still more than 20 times international safe levels at several locations in the city of 20 million people during commuting hours.

The government monitoring system said air quality was “very poor” on Monday morning.
The 2.5 particulate matter (PM2.5) measures less than 2.5 microns and can penetrate the lungs through the blood system, causing serious respiratory and heart diseases.
Experts say the toxic cocktail that hits Delhi and other Indian cities each winter causes the premature deaths of more than one million people each year.
Weather officials said moderate winds will help clean the city’s air but that increased fires on farms in Haryana and Punjab states was a particular threat.
Thousands of farmers in Haryana burn their rice and wheat stubble in between planting new crops sending clouds of smoke toward Delhi.
Experts say this contributes a fifth of the PM2.5 pollution that hits each year, while the millions of vehicles on the roads and unregulated construction and factory emissions are the major cause.
The government has taken a slew of anti-pollution measures in recent years, including shutting down thermal power plants and banning construction during the pollution season.
In November, a bid to reduce road traffic will be introduced with odd and even registration plates allowed on Delhi roads on alternate days.


China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

Updated 24 January 2020

China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

  • The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China
  • Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies

BEIJING: China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least 10 cities with a total of about 33 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbors in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice, the city is constructing a hospital modeled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing. The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000- square-meter (270,000-square-foot) lot, slated for completion Feb. 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown.

Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation.

Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies. Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for checks. Some users on Weibo said their family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of masks, googles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices online.

Administrators at Wuhan University People’s Hospital set up a group chat on the popular WeChat messaging app to coordinate donations.

The “Fever Control Command Center” of the city of Huanggang also put out a call for donations publicized by the state-run People’s Daily, asking for medical supplies, medicine and disinfection equipment. The notice added that at the moment they wouldn’t accept supplies from foreign countries.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were canceled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Two major tourist destinations, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, announced they will close indefinitely on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei and the youngest recorded victim.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

While the majority of deaths have been older patients, a 36-year-old man in Hubei was admitted to the hospital earlier this month after suffering from fever for three days. He died following a sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 23.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan, but people who visited or had personal connections to infected people were among the scattered cases counted beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday and Singapore confirmed its third. Cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.

Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.

Across China, a slew of cancelations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancelations.