Five million masks are being distributed at schools in New Delhi on Friday after health officials declared that the pollution had deteriorated air quality to “severe” levels.
“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighboring states,” the city’s top elected official Arvid Kejriwal, said in a tweet. “It is very (important) that we protect ourselves from this toxic air.”
Authorities ordered schools closed until Nov. 5, and Kejriwal announced a plan to restrict the movement of private cars in the capital for nearly two weeks, beginning Monday.
Kejriwal has asked people to use the masks – which are being handed out to students and their parents – as much as possible.
Thick white smog blanketed the city, with residents sharing photos on social media.
Air pollution in New Delhi generally peaks around Nov. 1 due to a combination of smog from fireworks set during a Hindu festival and smoke from the burning of agricultural fields in the neighboring states.
The air quality index reading at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi for pollution particles in the air reached nine times the recommended WHO level on Friday. At such levels, people are advised to avoid all outdoor exertion due to health risks.
A Supreme Court-appointed panel of experts has temporarily banned construction activity in the New Delhi region to control the dust in the air.
Meanwhile, private cars running on petrol and diesel will be allowed in New Delhi only on alternate days from Nov. 4 to 15 depending on whether they have even or odd-numbered plates.
Kejriwal said that similar restrictions in 2016 reduced air pollution by up to 13 percent.
Last month Kejriwal announced plans to sweep roads mechanically, plant trees and control pollution at 12 hotspots in the city.
India is home to many of the world's most polluted cities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.