Lockdowns Clearing The Air

As the novel coronavirus tears around the world, it’s exploiting our biggest weaknesses, from creaking health care systems to extreme social inequality. Its relationship with one pervasive and neglected problem, however, is more tangled: Air pollution has intensified the pandemic, but the epidemic has—temporarily—cleaned the skies

When new evidence emerged this week that dirty air makes Covid-19 more lethal, it surprised no one who has followed the science of air pollution—but the scale of the effect was striking. The study, which must still undergo peer review for publication, found that the tiny pollutant particles known as PM2.5, breathed over many years, sharply raise the chances of dying from the virus.

Researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data on PM2.5 levels and Covid-19 deaths from about 3,000 U.S. counties covering 98 per cent of the U.S. population. Counties that averaged just one microgram per cubic meter more PM2.5 in the air had a Covid-19 death rate that was 15 per cent higher.

“If you’re getting COVID, and you have been breathing polluted air, it’s really putting gasoline on a fire,” said Francesca Dominici, a Harvard biostatistics professor and the study’s senior author.

That’s because the fine particles penetrate deep into the body, promoting hypertension, heart disease, breathing trouble, and diabetes, all of which increase complications in coronavirus patients. The particles also weaken the immune system and fuel inflammation in the lungs and respiratory tract, adding to the risk both of getting Covid-19 and of having severe symptoms.

Dominici and her colleagues illustrated the impact with a specific example: Manhattan, the current epicentre of the pandemic, where PM2.5 averages range as high as 11 micrograms per cubic meter, and where 1,904 deaths from Covid-19 had been reported as of 4th April. Had particle levels averaged just one unit lower over the past two decades, the researchers calculated, 248 fewer people would have died over the past several weeks. And of course, the toll has mounted since 4th April.

But while pollution inhaled in the past is still causing harm today, the temporary experience of cleaner air brought about by widespread shutdowns may offer lessons for the kind of world we want to build after the pandemic.

People so accustomed to the pollution they hardly think about it may realise, “Actually, I really do quite enjoy clean air: Do you think we could get it, or keep it?” says Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London, an advocacy organisation. “There’s a chance to really get people to stop, take a deep breath,” and reflect on questions like “How was your asthma during this period?”

Although a near-halt in normal life and economic activity is no one’s idea of a good way to reduce pollution, the brief respite might, in Birkett’s view, turn this dark time into “a catalyst, or a tipping point, which could get us to say ‘Clean air—there’s something special about it.’”


From China’s Hubei province to industrial northern Italy and beyond, pollution levels have plummeted as lockdowns aimed at slowing the viral spread have shuttered businesses and trapped billions of people at home. In India, where air pollution is among the world’s worst, “people are reporting seeing the Himalayas for the first time from where they live,” Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said in an email.

India’s hastily imposed shutdowns have been devastating, leaving hundreds of thousands of migrant workers without homes or jobs. But in Delhi, where the air is normally choking, levels of both PM2.5 and the harmful gas nitrogen dioxide fell more than 70 per cent.

EU To Extend Digital Covid Certificate For Travel Until June 2023

As the current EU Digital Covid Certificate rules are set to expire on 30 June, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs...

WHO: Three Possible Scenarios For The Pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released an updated plan for Covid-19, describing three possible scenarios for how the pandemic may develop by the...

Anti-Vaccine Activists March In D.C. – City That Mandates Coronavirus Vaccination – To Protest Mandates

Thousands of protesters from across the country — including some of the biggest names in the anti-vaccination movement — descended on the nation’s capital Sunday for...

US Supreme Court Blocks Biden’s Workplace Vaccine Mandate

The US Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden's rule requiring workers at large companies to be vaccinated or masked and tested weekly. The justices...

Saudi Arabia: Strengthening Cooperation With Serbia

The business community is a key factor in building good relations between countries, emphasized the Minister of Foreign Affairs...

Ambassador Chen Bo: China Will Always Contribute To The World Peace And Development

Respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity is established as an important principle of the UN Charter and represents...

Reception On The Occasion Of The Day Of German Unity Held In Belgrade

On the occasion of the Day of German Unity, in the Botanical Garden in Belgrade, the Embassy of Germany...

Response to War in Ukraine Key Focus Area For IFC’s New Regional Director For Europe

IFC has appointed Rana Karadsheh as Regional Director for Europe. Based in Vienna, she will play a key role...

IMF: War Caused Biggest Food Shortage Since 2008

The war in Ukraine has disrupted supplies of grain and fertilizer, producing the worst food shortages since the global...