Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, late on Wednesday night, announced the closure of all public and private schools in provincial capital Lahore today (Thursday) after the Air Quality Index soared to over 500 in parts of the city.
In a tweet posted at 11:41 p.m., the chief minister said: “Due to sudden increase in smog, all schools in Lahore will remain closed tomorrow. We are closely monitoring the #LahoreSmog situation. Administration is already on high alert and have tasked them to escalate actions against crop burning and other factors that contribute to smog.”
Earlier, social media users were complaining of an acrid smell of smoke in the atmosphere, with visibility also dropping as a haze enveloped the city in the evening. #LahoreSmog was a trending topic across Pakistan, with several residents saying they were having trouble breathing outdoors. The U.S. Consulate in Lahore, which has its own air quality monitor, also posted that around 11:00 p.m., the AQI near the central Mall Road—where the consulate is located—had shown “PM2.5 pollutants at over 500.”
PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, so small that they can only be detected with an electron microscope. These fine particles, which can come from various sources including power plants, motor vehicle emissions, and agricultural burning, last longer in the air than heavier particles. This increases chances of them being inhaled by humans and animals, where they can bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs.
Prior to C.M. Buzdar’s announcement—which was followed by schools issuing their own advisories to parents and students—Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas had also tweeted that the government was monitoring the worrisome smog situation. “SMOG at abnormally high levels right now in Lahore. Continuously monitoring the situation. Please refrain from taking the kids outdoors unless it is absolutely necessary. Will update.”
Experts have claimed the sudden jump in the AQI was likely brought about by a shift in wind direction, which brought additional smoke and pollutants from neighboring India, whose capital New Delhi is also facing unprecedented smog levels. A massive traffic jam in Lahore may also have exacerbated the situation by increasing the amount of vehicular emissions.
On Thursday morning, perhaps owing to the fewer vehicles on the roads due to the schools closure, the AQI had once again recovered. At 9:00 a.m., it stood at 77, which is considered a “moderate” level of smog.
It is advised that so long as smog persists, the elderly, children and the infirm should stay indoors with their windows closed. Doctors also say that people who feel the affects of smog should drink plenty of water and wear face masks if they have to travel outside.