On Monday, citizens of Beijing woke up to an orange sky, with the air quality recorded as hazardous. As the commuters woke up to carry on with their daily activities, they came face to face with a thick cloud of dust across the capital. The air quality index in the city was measured at 999.

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Metrological authorities issued a high alert warning that stayed in place from 7:30 a.m. until midday. Another warning had been issued earlier, which required citizens to be generally watchful of dust and sand from Monday until Tuesday morning.

Related: Pollution Pods let visitors taste pollution from around the world

Beijing experiences dusty air at this time of the year following sandstorms across the Gobi desert. Winds blowing across the desert usually worsen air quality, but not to the levels witnessed this week, according to long-term residents. State media reported that 341 individuals were missing in nearby Mongolia, which was also affected by the sandstorms.

The levels of PM2.5 recorded were over 600 micrograms in most parts of the city. Such particles are harmful to human health because they can penetrate the lungs and even get into the bloodstream. The recommended level of average daily concentration of PM2.5 is only 25 micrograms, according to the World Health Organization.

In comparison to other cities, Beijing’s 999 real-time air quality index (AQI) was significantly higher than other major cities at the same time. The real-time AQI in Tokyo was 42, Sydney at 17, New York at 26 and Hong Kong at 66.

Residents of the city expressed their fears over the situation. People shared social media screenshots of other air quality indexes, with some readings over 9,000, which is technically beyond the scale.

Austin Ramzy, a New York Times reporter based in Beijing, tweeted, “I can recall PM10 over 1000 from sandstorms a few times when I lived in Beijing, but this is nuts,” with a screenshot of an index reading 6,450 PM10 and 462 PM2.5.

The dust storms have been linked to large-scale deforestation. Recently, the Chinese government has been trying to reforest in a bid to restore air quality in the city, which has one of the worst air quality ratings in the world.

Via The Guardian

Image via Erdenebayar Bayansan