Before and after coronavirus: As humans lockdown, the planet air clears

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As the whole world struggles to fight the coronavirus pandemic, an unexpected outcome has been clearer skies.


China had a significant decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities like Beijing during February, when factories and streets were closed as authorities attempted to stop the spread of the virus, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus satellite image.

Images from the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus satellite released on March 19 revealed a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions in all major Chinese cities between 20 December 2019 and 16 March 2020.

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Venice canals, usually bogged down with tourists in gondolas and motorboats are now crystal clear after the Italian government closed the country to foreign tourists and told Italians to stay at home, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

The difference in the air of Milan, Italy’s financial capital, from before the lockdown to April is stark. Only three months ago in January, the city was one of more of a dozen in Italy that introduced traffic curbs in a bid to reduce harmful emissions following a spike in pollution.


Air pollution from nitrogen dioxide has fallen by an estimated 40 percent in three European cities coinciding with a widespread lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, according to new satellite data released by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The space agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite mission on March 27 released composite images showing nitrogen dioxide concentrations from March 14-25, 2020 over France and Spain, compared to the monthly average of concentrations from 2019.

Streets of Paris, the world’s most visited city were largely deserted, empty of the columns of traffic that normally choke the air around landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.


Indians are breathing easier as a the biggest lockdown in the world to prevent the spread of coronavirus has kept cars off the roads and closed factories, leading to improved air quality in the world’s most polluted capital city, New Delhi.

Landmarks such as the Presidential Palace and India Gate could be seen against blue skies on April 6.

Last year, India accounted for around half of the world’s 50 most polluted cities, according to Swiss firm IQAir, with emissions caused partly by industry, vehicle exhaust and coal-fired plants.

Carbon dioxide emissions

Carbon dioxide emissions could fall by the largest amount since World War II this year as the coronavirus outbreak brings economies to a virtual standstill, according to the chair of a network of scientists providing benchmark emissions data.

But the improvements tied to a world-shaking global health emergency that has infected more than 2.2 million people by mid-April – while shuttering factories, grounding airlines and forcing hundreds of millions of people to stay at home to slow the contagion - could be short-lived.

Experts warn that without structural change, the emissions declines caused by coronavirus could will not last and have little impact on the concentrations of carbon dioxide that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades.

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