Beijing's smog crisis idles factories, boosts travel

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2015 4:20 AM
Beijing's smog crisis idles factories, boosts travel

BEIJING (AP) — Factories in Beijing that make goods from cement to train cars were shut down Tuesday to help ease the Chinese capital's pollution crisis. But it was a boon for some businesses, boosting sales of air purifying equipment and travel to escape the haze.

Snack stands promoted sales of pear and pomegranate juices, a traditional remedy for lung problems, as the impact of traffic and other restrictions rippled through Beijing's economy, which at $340 billion is bigger than many countries.

Half the cars in this city of 20 million people were ordered off the streets. Facilities in cement, petrochemicals and other industries were told to close or reduce operations after pollution soared to many times safe levels.

Beijing Building Materials Group, a major producer of cement and other materials, closed several factories, according to an employee of its public relations department. He declined to give his name or other details.

A factory operated by a unit of CNR Group, one of China's biggest producers of railway cars, suspended paint spraying and other work, according to a city government statement.

City inspectors set up 650 video cameras to watch construction sites and confirm they obey dust-control rules, the statement said.

Travel companies saw an uptick in demand as some residents left Beijing on "smog holidays."

Ctrip.com, an online travel service, has seen a 20 percent rise in sales of packages marketed under a "Skip the Smog" label to people in Beijing, according to a company spokesman, Shi Kaifeng. They included trips to Tangshan, three hours from Beijing, or as far away as Indonesia.

"Normally winter is a quiet season for travelling," said Shi. "But we find many people want to take trips this year."

Mr Fruit, a fruit juice stand in the lobby of a Beijing office building, offered 12 percent off pear and pomegranate juice, which traditional Chinese medicine says can moisten the lungs and reduce phlegm.

"We try to catch the customer's eye with this promotion," said the assistant manager, Li Mingji. "Sales of these juices have increased 30 percent in the past two days."

At Ele.me, an online food delivery company, anti-smog face masks passed spicy chicken burgers as the product requested most by customers in Beijing, said a company spokesman, Zou Yang. He said the company sold 40 percent more masks than chicken burgers on Tuesday and the number was up eight times compared with the previous week.

Those who stayed in Beijing also bought air purifying machines, an increasingly common household necessity in a city that even on normal days is one of the world's most polluted.

Sales of purifiers made by Xiaomi, a prominent smartphone brand, soared to 422 on Monday from 120 on Sunday, according to the company's shop on Taobao.com, an online mall. Sales of the machines, priced at 899 yuan ($142), stopped at 68 on Tuesday after the site ran out of filters required to operate the machines.

"An air purifier is a must at home," said Sun Yuanyuan, 30, an employee of a foreign company. "If my boss allows days off, I will definitely fly far away to a place with clean air to escape the dirty air in Beijing."

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AP researchers Dong Tongjian and Yu Bing in Beijing and Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed.