North Macedonia’s government says it's imposing urgent measures in the country’s capital, Skopje, and the western city of Tetovo in order to shield inhabitants from dangerously high levels of air pollution.
Authorities said on January 27 that the levels of toxic particles in the air were about 11 times higher than the safe levels on two consecutive days, representing a health hazard.
North Macedonia has been for years one of Europe's most polluted countries. Health authorities estimate that more than 3,000 people die each year as result of air pollution, which is mostly a consequence of the heavy use of household wood-burning stoves during cold winters, old cars, and the practice in some areas of garbage disposal by incineration.
The government has recommended that companies allow pregnant women and persons over the age of 60 to not work, for construction companies to cut down on outdoor work, and for sport and other outdoor activities to be banned on days of high pollution.
Authorities said officials would reduce the use of vehicles by half, and ordered the Health and Welfare ministries to provide shelter for homeless people and to increase emergency services and home visits to people with chronic illnesses.
The measures will take effect from January 28.