Authorities in New Delhi have declared a public health emergency and closed schools and all construction activity as air pollution in the city hit its worst level this year.
It comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel touched down in the region yesterday for discussions on trade, foreign policy and security with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A thick haze has hung over the Indian capital this week caused by plumes of toxic smoke from farm fires raging in neighbouring states.
Heavily pollution smog covers the capital of Delhi on November 1. Authorities in New Delhi have declared a public health emergency and closed schools and all construction activity as air pollution in the city hit its worst level this year
A bird flied past as Delhi’s skyline is seen enveloped in smog and dust in New Delhi on Friday
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrives at Rashtrapati Bhavan, India’s Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Friday
An index measuring the level of a deadly air pollutant hit 484 on a scale of 500 on Friday, the government’s Central Pollution Control Board, the worst this year.
The index measures the level of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that goes deep into the lungs. Anything above 400 poses a risk for people with respiratory illnesses and can also affect even those with healthy lungs.
Some companies advised employees to avoid exposure to toxic air and work from home.
The harmful air pollution levels were announced a day after Merkel arrived in Delhi for a three-day visit. The German leader today signed a range of strategic agreements with Modi in New Delhi.
She and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not use face masks recommended by doctors while inspecting troops at the presidential palace despite the health emergency.
Meanwhile Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal offered free masks on Friday and ordered schools shut till November 5 to protect children.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Indian Prime Minister Modi at the presidential palace on Friday
Indian school students wear gas masks as they pose for a photograph in New Delhi on Friday
Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal (right) and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia (centre) distribute a mask to a school child on Friday
‘We have been advised to stay at home on Monday,’ said Anuj Rawat, an account director at Kantar, the market research arm of British advertising major WPP. Kantar employs around 400 people at its office in New Delhi, Rawat said.
The Environment Pollution Control Authority, which is leading the effort to tackle Delhi’s pollution, said: ‘We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts on all, but particularly our children.’
It banned all construction work in the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people and its neighbouring cities until November 5.
Each year, farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana burn crop residue to prepare for the sowing season, ignoring government warnings.
Birds fly past as Delhi’s skyline is enveloped in smog and dust in on Friday, November 1
According to government-run monitor SAFAR, satellite pictures had captured nearly 3,200 incidents of stubble burning on Thursday in Haryana and Punjab that contributed to 44% percent of Delhi’s pollution.
The toxic air has left several Bangladeshi cricket players with sore throats and itchy eyes ahead of their Twenty20 match against India on Sunday.
‘Government knew an emergency situation was approaching and did not take substantive steps on stubble burning or big industrial polluting sources,’ said Sunil Dahiya, an energy and air pollution analyst at Greenpeace.
‘A public health emergency situation began at least 10 days ago.’
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