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China is considering limiting the operations of steel­makers, petrochemical plants and other factories near Beijing for nearly two months next year in order to reduce air pollution during the Olympic Games, according to local media.

The reports highlight continuing speculation about what action the government will take to try to ensure air quality does not hit dangerous levels when its often smoggy capital hosts the Games next August.

It has been widely assumed that Beijing will be forced to order nearby factories to reduce or suspend operations, but Liu Qi, the head of the Olympic organising committee, last month told the Financial Times that such action was not needed.

Mr Liu, who is the Beijing Communist party chief, said a trial of more limited temporary measures, including the banning of 1.3m cars from the streets and suspension of earth-moving work, had had “pretty ideal” results. “We have not made any demand for suspensions of [industrial] operations.”

But in a report on Thursday, the China Daily quoted a locally based environmental expert as saying the trials did not do enough to improve Beijing’s air quality. “We need stronger measures now, rather than regret afterward,” the government-run English-language newspaper quoted Yang Fuqiang as saying.

It cited a recent report in the respected Caijing news magazine saying that environmental authorities had approved in principle a package of actions intended to “guarantee” air quality during the Olympics.

Revisions were being made to the package ahead of its submission for approval by the state council, China’s cabinet, Caijing said. The plan would require companies producing steel, petrochemicals, building materials and other goods to halt or cut operations for 58 days surrounding the Games.

Such a plan could have a big impact on the operations of thousands of companies in Beijing and nearby provinces but, with less than a year to go to the Games, companies say they still do not know what to expect.

“There has been no request for a suspension of production,” an official at Beijing’s most notorious polluter, the Shougang steelworks, said.

Shougang, also known as Capital Iron & Steel, is gradually moving out of Beijing but will still have substantial capacity in the city during the Games.

Beijing Yanshan Petrochemical said it had not received any notice from the government on how the Olympics might affect its operations.

Analysts say concentrations of fine particulates and ozone often hit unsafe levels in Beijing in the summer, and concerns about the issue clouded celebrations on August 8 to mark the start of the last year of preparations. Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, warned then that bad air could force changes to the timing of some outdoor events.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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