Choking smog continued to blanket a vast area of the mainland, disrupting schools and traffic on the second day of the new year. Nine provinces and municipalities in the northern and central regions, including the area comprising Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei as well as Shandong, Shaanxi and Henan provinces, were engulfed by heavy air pollution. After pollution made Beijing’s air quality index (AQI) fly off the chart on the first day of the new year, residents got to breathe less toxic air for only a few hours before conditions got worse again on Monday night, according to the national meteorological agency. Beijing recorded an AQI close to or above 500, the top of the scale, on Sunday. Cold air helped disperse the smog on Monday morning, but the effect was short lived. The capital raised its orange alert for air pollution on December 30 and has extended it until tomorrow.