It may be hard to find many positive aspects of the COVID-19 lockdown, but it seems that the reduction in pollution caused by emissions from vehicles and fossil fuelled power stations has made a massive difference to the air we breathe and resulted in dramatically fewer deaths from respiratory diseases.
A study carried out by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) suggested that during the 30-days beginning 1 April, some 11,000 fewer lives across Europe had been lost to illnesses caused by air pollution.
The study recorded an average 40% reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution and 10% in the average levels of particulate matter.
Lauri Myllyvirta, Lead Analyst at Helsinki-based CREA said, "You could compare it to everyone in Europe stopping smoking for a month. Our analysis highlights the tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way."
CREA says the countries with the largest reductions in NO2 pollution levels are Portugal, Spain, Norway, Croatia, France, Italy and Finland, while the largest reductions in particulate matter pollution were in Portugal, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Finland and Spain. The projected avoided health impacts are largest in Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, Poland and Portugal.
While the lockdown has clearly demonstrated the health benefits of reducing fossil fuel pollution, it will be interesting to see how governments react when life eventually returns to normal. The environmentalists will no doubt see the evidence as a vindication of their efforts to reduce emissions globally and save the world from catastrophe. However, the lockdown has shown how, in just a few weeks, our lives and businesses have been blighted by a sudden change in direction. Let’s hope sanity prevails and that whatever our leaders decide it will take place in a measured way and not be at the expense of our freedom, our way of life and our ability to prosper.