Local officials warned that the severe pollution in Beijing was likely to continue until Tuesday.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website that the density of PM2.5 particulates had reached 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city, a level considered extremely hazardous.
By 5 p.m., the center's real-time reporting showed the air quality indexes at or approaching the maximum 500 from some monitoring stations. The index runs from zero to 500 and accounts for the level of airborne PM 2.5 particulates — tiny particles considered the most harmful to health.
Generally, the air quality is considered good when the index is at 50 or below, and hazardous with an index between 301 and 500, when people are warned to avoid outdoor physical activities. Those with respiratory problems, the elderly and children are asked to stay indoors.
The air started to turn bad on Thursday, and monitors in Beijing reported air quality indexes above 300 by Friday. The monitoring center said Saturday that the pollution was expected to linger for the next three days and urged residents, especially the most vulnerable, to stay home as much as possible.
The air quality data are the worst in Beijing since the municipal government began to track PM2.5 early last year, said Zhou Rong of the environmental organization Green Peace.