The strict confinement policies due to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the closure of work spaces in European cities, reduced the levels of air pollution and, as a consequence, the number of associated deaths, according to new estimates published in «Scientific Reports».
The research, which was funded by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the Copernicus Atmosphere Survey Service (CAMS), has been led by a team of Earth observation and health satellite modellers. statistician based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), with colleagues from CAMS.
The study also compared government policies in 47 European cities from February to July 2020 and estimated changes in pollution levels and the related number of deaths averted during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lockdown measures due to Covid-19, such as school and workplace closures, cancellation of public events, and stay-at-home requirements, had the strongest effect in reducing nitrogen dioxide NO2 levels.
Although strong decreases in NO2 were observed, the levels of fine particles PM2.5 and PM10 decreased more modestly since they are also produced by natural sources (forest fires and dust) and other emission sources such as residential activities, which increased slightly during the confinement.
“The confinement during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic generated immense social and health costs; however, it has offered unique conditions to investigate the potential effects of strict policies to reduce pollution levels in urban areas”, says Antonio Gasparrini, lead author of the study, stated:
This “natural experiment”, he adds, “has given us an idea of how improve air quality through drastic measures public health that would be difficult to implement in normal times. The information can be important in designing effective policies to address the problem of pollution in our cities.”
Paris, London, Barcelona and Milan they are among the top six cities with the highest number of deaths averted.
Although all cities saw a slight increase in air pollution levels after the sharp decline in March and April 2020, levels remained below business-as-usual estimates throughout the study period. Internal and international travel restrictions showed less impact on local pollution levels.
Rochelle Schneider, first author of the study, notes: “This and similar studies may help drive the message that we definitely need to improve urban air quality for human health and the environment.
“Government policies decided during the spring and early summer of 2020 gave us a unique opportunity to study a real-life scenario with lower levels of air pollution,” he adds.