As Beijing's air pollution woes continue with its fourth serious case of smog in recent weeks, hospital visits for respiratory complaints rose by 20 percent, according to reports this week. This has triggered more public outcries on the internet, with even the usually tame official media calling for greater action. The China Daily also called on the government to publicise details on the causes of the smog, saying relevant departments had not provided reliable data, and warned that the lack of such information will cause action to "fail to materialise".
Report: Beijing hospital visits rise due to pollution: media [Channel NewsAsia, 31 Jan 2013]
Analysis: Stricter air quality control [China Daily, 1 Feb 2013]
With the smog continuing to linger, public anger is mounting. When an official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection commented that developed countries took 50 years to solve their pollution problems, social media users responded furiously.
The public outcry against air pollution has been present since previous years, with the Beijing government last year conceding to public demands for greater transparency and publicising hourly readings of levels of PM2.5 -- particulate matter of diameter 2.5 micrometres and below. Earlier this year, the municipal government also proposed rules that would shut down factories and take cars off the road when air pollution reaches hazardous levels.
With hospital visits also spiking, increasing attention is being paid to the health impacts of the smog. State broadcaster CCTV cited president of the China Medical Association, Zhong Nanshan, as saying that air pollution, affecting the heart and veins, is more frightening than SARS. Dr. Zhong had previously revealed China's cover-up of the SARS epidemic of 2002.
In another sign of the Chinese media's increasingly vocal calls to action, a China Daily commentary expressed "disappointment" on 1 February that some government cars are defying bans and contruction sites continuing their operations despite being instructed to stop on smoggy days, and called for all who flout such prohibitions -- including officials -- to be "severely punished".
Some individuals have also taken their own measures. An entrepreneur has launched a humorous campaign to raise greater awareness of the problem among policy-makers and companies -- by selling canned fresh air.