Selin ATAY-TDO-As the blanket of haze over the national capital continued to thicken with overall Air Quality Index (AQI) rising to 459 on Friday morning, a Supreme Court-mandated panel declared a public health emergency in Delhi and nearby areas, and banned any construction activity till November 5.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal issued orders to all private and government schools to remain closed till November 5. Blaming neighbouring states for turning Delhi into a “gas chamber,” Kejriwal distributed over five million masks to school children.

“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighboring states. It is very important that we protect ourselves from this toxic air. Through private and government schools, we have started distributing five million masks today. I urge all Delhiites to use them whenever needed,” Kejriwal added.

The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has directed that all construction activities in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida should remain completely shut till the morning of November 5.

The air quality in Delhi-NCR deteriorated further Thursday night and is now at the severe plus level, EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal said in a letter to the chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. "We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution will have an adverse health impact on all, particularly our children," he said in the letter.

All 37 air quality monitoring stations in the capital showed the air quality index above 400, while in some areas this level rose to above 700, reaching dangerous levels. According to the Air Quality Index showing the size of the air pollution, 201-300 is low, 301-400 is very low, 401-500 is severe and over 500 is dangerous.

If the air quality continues to remain in the “severe” or “severe plus” category for another 48 hours, emergency measures such as immediately banning entry of trucks in Delhi and introduction of odd-even car rationing scheme will be undertaken by Delhi administration.

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