Air pollution makes Covid-19 more lethal, warn health experts

Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford's Department of Earth System Science, told CNN the better air quality could have saved between 50,000 and 75,000 people from dying prematurely. A preliminary calculation by a USA expert suggests that tens of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution may have been avoided by the cleaner air in China, far higher than the 3,208 coronavirus deaths.

"The effects I calculate just represent health benefits from the air pollution changes wrought by the economic disruption, and do not account for the many other short- or long-term negative consequences of this disruption on health or other outcomes; these harms likely vastly exceed any health benefits from reduced air pollution".

While China has made some progress in tackling pollution, it still ranks poorly in global comparisons.

According to China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the average number of "good quality air days" increased 21.5% in February, compared to the same period past year in Hubei province, the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, NASA published images that showed how nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution over northern Italy has fallen dramatically following their government introduction of a nationwide lockdown.

Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, Finland, told Insider that companies in China could ramp up production to compensate for the previous losses. A study in 2019 found that pollution has declined significantly across China between 2013 and 2017. Beijing fell from the top 100 most polluted cities in Asia in recent years, with global pollution levels 10% lower in Chinese cities between 2017 and 2018, according to a report by Greenpeace and AirVisual.

Anna Gerometta, President of the European Environmental Bureau member Cittadini Per L'aria (Citizens for the Air) group wrote that, despite acknowledging that it was too soon to draw conclusions, concentrations of particulate matter in Lombardy, namely PM10 and PM2.5, and [NO2] "have been nearly constantly well beyond the legal limits" from December a year ago to early February.

To avoid overestimating the impact, Burke then rounded the reduction down to 10 ug/m3, and assumed only people living in urban areas would benefit from the cleaner air.

A study published last week in the journal Cardiovascular Research said that air pollution shortens lives worldwide by almost three years on average, and leads to 8.8 million premature deaths annually.

Several environmental agencies have blasted government efforts to curb a key factor leading to rising deaths amid the Coronavirus pandemic, with representatives urging leaders to step up measures against both threats to European public health. "No", he said. "Instead, it means that the way our economies operate in the absence of pandemics has huge hidden health costs, and it takes a pandemic to help see this".

However, strict confinement measures in China, where the coronavirus outbreak began, and in Italy, Europe's most affected nation, have led to falls in air pollution as fewer vehicles are driven and industrial emissions fall.