Local media reported that visibility was down to only 200m in Beijing. Photo: AP
Schools in Beijing are to close and outdoor construction to stop after the Chinese capital issued its first "red alert" over smog levels. The red alert is the highest possible, and has not been used in the city before, the state-run Xinhua news agency says.
Authorities expect more than three consecutive days of severe smog. Cars with odd and even number plates will be banned from driving on alternate days.
Current pollution levels in Beijing are actually lower than last week's, but the red alert has been placed because of levels expected over the coming days.
The order will last from 07:00 local time on Tuesday (23:00 GMT on Monday) until 12:00 on Thursday, when a cold front is expected to arrive and clear the smog.
China's CCTV news channel reported at the weekend that some parts of Beijing had visibility of only 200m (660 feet). The smog film taking China by storm
'Air dark from pollution'
At 18:00 local time (10:00 GMT) on Monday, the air pollution monitor operated by the US Embassy in Beijing reported that the intensity of the poisonous, tiny particles of PM 2.5 was 10 times above the recommended limit.
The level in Beijing reached more than 256 micrograms per cubic metre in some of the worst-affected areas. The World Health Organization considers 25 micrograms per cubic metre to be a safe level.
Activists said the level hit 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre in the north-east city of Shenyang last month, saying it was the worst seen in China.
Last week, activists from Greenpeace had urged the Chinese government to declare a red alert. Another Chinese city, Nanjing, issued a red alert in December 2013.
On 30 November, Beijing issued an orange alert - the second-highest of the four-tier system adopted in 2013.
Coal-powered industries and heating systems, as well as dust from construction sites, all contribute to the smog which has been exacerbated by humidity and a lack of wind.