Elaine Cheung

For the second time in two weeks, the Chinese capital is being swallowed up by heavy smog, 20 times more than the World Health Organization (WHO) safety records. Visibility around the city has been reduced to less than 200 meters (200 yards), causing airlines to cancel flights and roads to be closed.

People venturing outside emerge with face masks to protect themselves from the extremely gray air. Some citizens have opted for gas masks and respirators.

"The air pollution is terrible. It's bad for citizens' health. They need to sort it out, the department responsible needs to sort out the environment," said Beijing resident Zhang Shuquing on China Radio International.

A record 9,000 children has been treated for respiratory problems stemming from the air pollution this month, according to a Beijing pediatric hospital.

The quality of the air has been a long-running problem in Beijing. Many people blame the increased use of private and government cars for the deteriorating air quality.

Since early last year, the government has made public statistics for some of the worst kinds of contaminants found in the country.

Every year around Chinese New Year, which begins Feb. 10, millions of people use different transport systems throughout the country to get to their holiday destinations.

“Travelling over the holiday is already a huge hassle, along with all the gift-giving and family visits,” said Ren Haiqiang, a Beijing resident. “We thought flying would be the best way to avoid the crush, but if the weather continues like this, we’ll be in real trouble.”

Relief may be in sight by Wednesday night as snow and rain is forecast to move into the area, helping to clear the air.