China once again demonstrated its unwavering commitment to improving the nation’s horrific air quality this week when people in the city of Zhengzhou were given bags full of clean air to huff.
Well, kind of. It was actually a publicity stunt reportedly put on by a travel company hoping to encourage tourism — though it was still more than government officials appeared to be doing to address Zhengzhou's abysmal air quality. The city of almost 9 million people, situated about 450 miles south of Beijing, saw people flock to a public plaza where they were invited to don oxygen masks attached to one of 20 bags of vacuum-sealed air; they were then encouraged to indulge by breathing something other than smog for a few minutes. The air had supposedly been shipped in from scenic Laojun Mountain.
Heavy smog covered the city of Beijing on February 25. The city has experienced a week of heavy smog with the authorities raising the air pollution alert system to ‘orange’. The US Embassy in Beijing issued a reading of ‘Hazardous’ for air pollution in the city.
The air-quality index of Zhengzhou on Tuesday was 151. Beijing's was 181. In Los Angeles, it was 4. Anything over 150 is considered unhealthy.
Since dangerously polluted air is a problem throughout China, the two largest insurance companies in the country had started selling smog insurance to residents and travelers earlier this year. People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC) offered coverage to Beijing residents and promised to pay almost $50 to policy holders if the official index of smog in the capital exceeded 300 — a level considered hazardous to people's health — for five consecutive days. The company also offered to pay about $240 to policy holders hospitalized as a result of the smog.
The insurance company Ping An guaranteed travelers in major cities like Beijing $8 a day if they suffered two or more consecutive days of severe smog on their trips.
However, last month Chinese regulators banned PICC and Ping An from selling any further coverage. (Officials didn't provide a reason for their decision.) Both agencies said that they would honor any policies that had already been sold this year.