BEIJING, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- China will launch an air pollution inspection program, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.
Areas to be targeted include Beijing and regions around Tianjin, Hebei and Hunan provinces, and the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas, state-run news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.
Inspections, to begin this month and continue through March 2014, are intended to determine how local governments are enforcing China's Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan, initiated last month. That plan imposes stricter limits on the levels of PM2.5, airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter.
Companies violating air pollution control regulations will be shut down, Xinhua reports.
The announcement came as the Chinese city of Harbin, about 780 miles northeast of Beijing, had been blanketed by thick smog since Sunday, resulting in the closure of roads, schools and a major airport.
Harbin's PM2.5 levels on Tuesday reached levels of 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, which is 40 times the safety level recommended by the World Health Organization.
In January, Beijing air quality levels reached nearly 900 micrograms.
The Chinese government aims to cut PM2.5 by about 25 percent from 2012 levels in Beijing and surrounding provincial areas by 2017.
Separately, Beijing said Tuesday it will ban half of private cars and 80 percent of public vehicles from the roads in the capital city under "red alert" conditions when the level exceeds 300 micrograms per cubic meter for three days running.
Beijing currently restricts private cars one workday a week, according to the last digit of the license plate.
"Halving the number of private cars on the roads will greatly help to reduce pollution over a short period," Fang Li, spokesman for the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau told reporters, China Daily reported.
The city will boost public transport to meet the increased demand on the "red alert" days.
On those days kindergartens, primary and middle schools will also be required to stop classes.
Regarding the heavy smog that covered Harbin, Fang attributed the problem to coal-fired heating systems in buildings and meteorological conditions that make it difficult for pollutants to disperse.
"However, the key still lies in the reduction of emissions in the long term," Fang said.
Still, there is concern about the long-term effectiveness of Beijing's plan.
While the new emergency measures show the government's determination to tackle Beijing's air pollution problem, "what is problematic is that those emergency measures are only targeted to those polluted days," Huang Wei, a spokesman for Greenpeace East Asia, told CNN. "It is rather a remedial measure than a preventative measure, and just to repair won't help the issue in the long run," Huang said.