Officials ban half of Beijing's cars amid emergency smog alert

There's big trouble in not-so-little China today, as the capital of the People's Republic has issued the direst of smog alerts for the first time. The so-called Red Alert was issued on Monday as Beijing's air-quality index crept above 300 out of 500 for the third consecutive day. Any score above 300 is considered "severely polluted," according to China Real Time.

On top of recommending that schools be shut and construction suspended, authorities are placing severe restrictions on driving. According to the New York Times, cars can only be driven on alternating days depending on their license plate number – odds on one day and evens on the other – effectively slashing the city's vehicular population in half. And it's not just the proletariat that's going to suffer – government agencies will be forced to park 30 percent of their vehicle fleets.

While this all seems like a dramatic step, it's important to understand just how serious the pollution situation was in Beijing. According to The Times, particulate matter in some parts of the city exceeded 40 times the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. The driving restrictions go into effect on Tuesday.

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