Drop in traffic and energy use has lead to significantly better air quality across the country
Falling energy use and quiet roads has meant cleaner air across the UK during the lockdown, cutting the number pollution-related deaths by 1,700, researchers estimate.
Over the last 30 days the UK has seen nitrogen dioxide levels fall by 36 per cent, while the numbers of tiny pollution particles that infiltrate deep into the lungs have fallen by almost 10 per cent.
- The symptoms of coronavirus, according to the WHO and NHS
- The UK lockdown rules and how they work
- What we know about when the UK might end lockdown
- Coronavirus travel update: Whether summer holidays will happen this year
- Boris Johnson’s return: ending lockdown would be ‘throwing away’ efforts in ‘moment of maximum risk’
The i newsletter cut through the noise
“The measures to combat the Covid-19 epidemic have resulted in unprecedentedly dramatic reductions in coal and oil burning and associated air pollution in Europe,” said Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Clean Air and Energy, which conducted the research.
Poor air quality can reduce lung capacity (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty)
The drop in pollution will have prevented the premature deaths of around 1,700 people suffering heart and lung disease, the team said. It will also have eased the suffering of those with chronic conditions like asthma, which is made worse by poor air quality.
But it will also have reduced the risk of future health complications for otherwise healthy people, explained Mr Myllyvirta. “What we’re talking about is the chronic health impacts that are realised over the longer term,” he told i. “So it’s a bit like the entire continent suddenly deciding to stop smoking after a month. That would result in health benefits, but not all are realised during that specific month.”
The trend towards cleaner air is repeated across Europe, with an estimated 11,000 air pollution-related deaths avoided as a result of the lockdowns. On average air pollution causes half a million premature deaths a year across Europe.
Local authorities have taken steps to curb air pollution from traffic in cities in recent years (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty)
A pause in pollution
But the cleaner air is only a temporary effect of the lockdown. Unless habits change, scientists expect pollution levels to rise back to normal levels as soon as the lockdown lifts.
That could make us more vulnerable to future coronavirus outbreaks. A study published earlier this month by Harvard University reported that a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution leads to a large increase in the death rate from Covid-19.That is because poor air quality increases the risk of conditions that make Covid-19 more deadly, such as diabetes, cancer and lung disease.