ISOLATION MEASURES FOR CORONAVIRUS CLEAR AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA, ITALY
Recent social isolation and travel restriction measures imposed by countries including China and Italy have led to a significant decline in air pollution. Lockdown measures affecting 35 million people in China began in January. Since then, pollution from nitrogen dioxide, sourced from cars, power plants, and factories, have fallen by over 40% in Chinese cities, according to satellite images from the European Space Agency. In northern Italy, researchers have found a similar decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions after the government placed restrictions on the movement of 16 million people (Reuters, Reuters, New York Times).
Scientists at Columbia University found that in New York City, which recently imposed social distancing measures, emissions of carbon monoxide fell by around 50% for a few days the week of March 16 (BBC). Air pollution fell even in South Korea, which placed relatively modest restrictions on travel (New York Times).
Evidence from previous coronavirus outbreaks has shown that people exposed to more air pollution are more at risk of dying. Studies on the SARS outbreak of 2003 found that infected people living in areas with greater air pollution were twice as likely to die as those living in less polluted places. However, experts stress that the indirect impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including lost income and lack of treatment for other illnesses, may far outweigh any benefits from reduced air pollution (The Guardian).