Choking smog continued to blanket a vast area of the mainland, disrupting schools and traffic on the second day of the new year.
Nine provinces and municipalities in the northern and central regions, including the area comprising Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei as well as Shandong, Shaanxi and Henan provinces, were engulfed by heavy air pollution.
After pollution made Beijing's air quality index (AQI) fly off the chart on the first day of the new year, residents got to breathe less toxic air for only a few hours before conditions got worse again on Monday night, according to the national meteorological agency.
Beijing recorded an AQI close to or above 500, the top of the scale, on Sunday. Cold air helped disperse the smog on Monday morning, but the effect was short lived.
The capital raised its orange alert for air pollution on December 30 and has extended it until Wednesday. An orange alert is the second-highest level on a four-tier warning system. Heavily polluting vehicles and trucks carrying construction waste are banned from roads and some manufacturing firms have cut production.
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The pollution disrupted traffic over the three-day New Year's holiday. The toll station near the capital on the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau expressway reported numerous stationary vehicles, making the highway around the station look like a car park.
Several highways in Henan were closed due to low visibility, which had dropped down to as little as 50 metres in some parts of the province.
Kindergartens, middle and primary schools in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, were to be closed today. Similar measures were taken in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection revealed on Sunday that some businesses had broken rules about cutting production during smog alerts.
People complained about the severe pollution on social media. "Taking a fresh breath of smog, it has a familiar smell," one user said on China's version of Twitter, Weibo.
"This kind of environmental problem closely related to our daily life will not be solved by the inaction of the government and the Communist Party," another Weibo user wrote.