‘Large decreases’ in air pollution during coronavirus lockdowns

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Empty Streets because of coronavirus
An empty shopping street in Hadera in Israel following the imposition of tough new restrictions to try and slow the spread of the new coronavirus

With a soaring infection rate, growing death toll and widespread lockdowns, it is hard to see the positive side of the coronavirus pandemic, but the European Environment Agency says air quality is improving.

The EEA said new data confirms “large decreases in air pollutant concentrations — of nitrogen dioxide concentrations in particular — largely due to reduced traffic and other activities, especially in major cities under lockdown measures”.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is mainly emitted by road transport, and the agency said levels of the pollutant in northern Italy, the epicentre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, are ranging from 21% to 47% lower this month than in March last year.

Similar trends have been seen in other parts of Europe under lockdown.

Levels in Barcelona and Madrid in Spain dropped by 40%-55% in the week of March 16-22, while NO2 levels in Portuguese capital Lisbon dropped 40%.

The agency noted that air pollution contributes to respiratory and heart disease but it is not yet clear whether exposure to such gases might worsen the condition of people with Covid-19.

EEA chief Hans Bruyninckx insisted that crisis measures are not the way to tackle air pollution.

“Addressing long-term air quality problems requires ambitious policies and forward-looking investments,” he said.

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